Hands of the Cause of God:
Recorded in the following pages are personal recollections of meetings with several of the Hands of the Cause of God – those "Chief Stewards of Bahá’u’lláh’s embryonic World Commonwealth ..." In each Dispensation there are a few individuals – a small handful - amongst the early followers of the Manifestation who are endowed with a special station and function. History records the ‘Disciples’ or ‘Apostles’ of Christ whose lives spanned the first and perhaps second generation of the early Christian community; Muhammad was succeeded by the Caliphate and a hereditary line of Imams whose lives spanned some 260 years of that Dispensation.
During His lifetime Bahá’u’lláh appointed four individuals as Hands of His Cause – creating thereby an appointed institution of individuals whose station and functions were clarified in the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, with further appointments flowing from the pen of Shoghi Effendi during his 36 years ministry – some named posthumously, some appointed during their lifetime, 27 of whom were carrying out their vital duties at the time of his passing in 1957. These individuals continued to serve the Cause with unremitting energy during the next half-century – until the eventual passing of the last of the Hands, Dr Ali-Muhammad Varqá, in September 2007 – B.E. 163.
This has provided an opportunity for many of the believers of the present generation to know, to meet with and experience some of the bounties that these special individuals showered upon our nascent community, still very young in terms of its destined span of influence on mankind’s social evolution. It is of great value to us in this generation, and to those that come after us, that these experiences, this fleeting contact with the Hands of the Cause who have served the Faith in whichever generation, be recorded in some fashion – and it is with this in mind, simply and purely the value of having some record of the effect that these very special souls have had on our communities, that the following has been penned.
Each of the Hands of the Cause appointed by Shoghi Effendi have bestowed some special gift on our community, have had some characteristic of their nature and their service to the Cause that is special and individual – some have highlighted prayer, some the importance of ‘teaching’ the Faith, some of living the life – and each has shown us the pathway to develop some of the divine attributes that are essential to Bahá’í life and the transformation of our world community – and together, as a body, they have carried the Faith securely through its time of greatest testing, following the passing of the beloved Guardian in 1957. For that single service alone, they deserve our undying gratitude and that of the whole of humanity, and historians of the future will no doubt record and pay tribute to their service in that field.
The following notes are simply the humble record of one individual’s brief contact with some of these special believers, these spiritual ‘giants’ – recording the small things of life, incidents which reflect the station, the nature and the service of these Hands of the Cause.
Our email contact was confined to a few exchanges. Then maybe six months ago, I received an email from Bill, informing me that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and that he was on his way to the Abha Kingdom. “A free ticket,” he called it. He asked me if I would have his pilgrim’s notes posted on the internet, along with his impressions of the Hands of the Cause he had met. I promised him that I would, but that I would have to rely on Jonah Winters to execute the task since my internet skills are minimal. Their electronic publication makes this set of pilgrim’s notes more widely available for the first time.
Read this in the knowledge that in doing so you are participating in the fulfillment of the final wishes of a dedicated Baha’i who had the privilege of attaining the presence of the “Sign of God on earth” and who very much wanted his fellow Baha’is to share what they could of that same privilege. [from About "Recollections of the Guardian"]
Hand of the Cause Abu’l-Qásim Faizi was the spiritual beacon that guided – and still guides – my life as a Bahá’í. Were it not for meeting him back in 1953, my life may well have taken a different course. The unassuming kindness that he showered upon each individual, the warmth of his love that instantly embraced you, the sense that he knew you to the depths of the soul and the understanding of the Faith that he so lovingly and unstintingly shared with us all has been a guiding light for this individual, as well as so many other souls around the world. Everywhere we go, we find believers whose lives have been touched – and moved – by meeting with Mr Faizi. Like the ‘pillar of fire’ that guided the early Israelites across the Sinai desert, he has been a guiding light for us, simply by the example of his life, demonstrating so clearly the spiritual heights that humanity as a whole and each individual is able to attain in this life.
While others guided my entry into the Faith and my early maturation of understanding, I had always regarded Mr Faizi as the one who had attracted my soul and was responsible for my recognition of the truth of Bahá’u’lláh at the deepest level of one’s being. But it was some years later, when I met him in Tokyo, Japan, and one of the friends had called him to the door of the meeting room as we entered, saying: “Come and meet two more friends – or perhaps you know him.” And he had replied, with a beaming smile that embraced one’s heart and soul: “Know him – I brought him into the Faith!” I had always known that it was Mr Faizi who had embedded the seed of Faith deep in my heart, but it was a joy to hear him say it. I wonder how many other souls around the world could well have been embraced by the same words from him. The number of his spiritual children throughout the breadth of the world community must be well beyond assessment.
I will interpolate into these recollections some notes, recorded at another time and for another purpose, of my memories of Mr Faizi – they cover most of the story:
That, then, are some of the memories that remain of those days. We all learned so much from Mr Faizi, from the huge store of knowledge and understanding he possessed. During his first visit to Australia in 1953, he spoke to around 70 of the friends gathered at the annual summer school at Yerrinbool. Amongst those were a number who would soon be on their way to pioneering posts in the Pacific, filling goals that would earn them the title of Knights of Bahá’u’lláh. He spoke of ‘history’ and what it means; of the early history of the Jewish faith, of Christianity and of Islam – and all this in preparation for several sessions on Nabil’s Dawn-breakers, opening vistas of understanding so new to most of those gathered there, and giving the Australian believers precious background knowledge of Islam and the teachings of Muhammad.
A door like no other
The young lad knocked rather tentatively on the door. It was a solid wooden door, in a solid masonry wall – not at all like the doors of residential homes he was used to in his native Australia. But then many things were different in Manama, the main – and really only – city of Bahrein Island, and he had become accustomed to many strange things on the way that had brought him to this point in his travels.
Returning from the incredible experience of pilgrimage to the Qibleh, the Holy Shrines of the Faith, and meeting with the beloved Guardian in January 1957, he had planned to travel back through Iran but had been advised that this would not be possible, perhaps even dangerous – not for the traveller but for those whom he may visit there, Bahá’ís who were under constant threat of persecution which had only recently reached a crisis point, that had seen the Haziratu'l-Quds in Tehran partially destroyed and many believers martyred – perhaps the worst outbreak of persecution in recent times, just past the midway point of the century. He had been advised by Shoghi Effendi that another return route should be chosen and, on enquiring at the travel agency in Haifa, had been delighted to find that this new route would take him through Bahrein Island.
He knew very little about Bahrein, except that it was where he could meet again, after some three years, the one who had first awakened his soul and won his allegiance to Bahá'u'lláh, one who had been travelling with Hand of the Cause 'Ali-Akbar Furútan through Australia and visiting the believers in small country towns there, following the final conference in the first series of Bahá’í intercontinental conferences, held in New Delhi, India, in October 1953. They had been directed by Shoghi Effendi to visit Australia and to meet with every Bahá’í on that continent, which they did – in those early days not an impossible mission. Mr Furútan was at that time recently appointed as Hand of the Cause of God, while Faizi, an Auxiliary Board member, was accompanying him as his translator, Mr Furútan's command of English at that time not being as good as it would be in later years.
Seeking further advice from the Guardian that evening, permission was given for the changed route, also for a stopover breaking the journey in Bahrein, provided that the stay there was brief, as the situation of the community there at that time was not a great deal better that in Iran itself. He was also told by the beloved Guardian that while he was now enjoying pilgrimage to the Shrines in the Holy Land, he would in Bahrein experience "another pilgrimage with Faizi". So was the thrill and expectation already in his heart immeasurably heightened by the Guardian's comment – words which clearly indicated his great love and high esteem for the pioneer of the community in Bahrein, 'Abu'l-Qásim Faizi, whom the Guardian had earlier named "the Spiritual Conqueror of Arabia".
Arriving in Bahrein the previous evening, he had booked into the "Seabird Hotel", a tourist hotel run by BOAC airways and had begun his search, with no address and only a name on his lips. Seeking advice from the local post office – the postman had immediately identified the one he sought as "teacher Faizi" – and from many other people along the way, he was soon standing in front of that door. He knocked again, and soon heard footsteps descending the stairway inside. As the door opened inwards and he uttered the greeting Alláh-u-Abhá – no doubt with very inadequate pronunciation – he found himself engulfed in a mighty hug and being led – almost carried – up the steep stairway by Faizi, through a small courtyard and into a small and simply furnished room where he was invited to sit on the couch. Marvelling that Faizi had remembered him after all these years, he was soon brought down to earth by Faizi's gentle inquiry, “Now, who are you?” He immediately realised that a greeting such as this was not for him alone, but for any Bahá'í who came there – probably for every human being, such was Faizi's inexhaustible love for all humanity.
So began a brief visit during which the visitor glimpsed time and again the vastness of the love which this spiritual giant – a vibrant example of what human beings have the capacity to be in the distant future – showered upon all the friends, indeed all who came into his presence.
Almost his first question was itself a spiritual lesson – the first of many – as Faizi gently inquired of the beloved Guardian, and asked whether he was aware that the young visitor was breaking his journey in Bahrein, and what instructions he may have given. On being told that his only instruction was that the visit should be brief, he immediately said that, even though such visits were rare and precious for the friends there, it must be no more than five days. Implicit in his inquiry was his need to know the Guardian's wishes and his immediate obedience in response – that "instant, exact and complete obedience" referred to in the prayer.
The visitor was then introduced to Faizi's family – his wife, Gloria, who had brought some refreshing tea and sweets, and their children, May and Naysan – the former in early teenage, demonstrating a maturity that came from a life of hardships shared willing with her parents at their pioneering post and the latter still a child, perhaps ten or eleven, of very sweet nature and somewhat shy – a description by which Naysan probably would not recognise himself when the two met again many years later in Tasmania, Australia. With a simple generosity which is not so common in a child of that age, Naysan shyly offered a parting gift when the visit came to an end – a photo frame of coloured mosaic, with the name of its maker on the back: "Gholamreza Golriz Khatami and Sons" in English and Farsi – the postcard of ‘minarets’ soon being replaced with a photograph of the Shrine at Bahji, and still kept as a treasured reminder of the kindness shown the visitor.
The home where the family lived was small and spare; he had first noticed the simplicity of the surroundings: the concrete-floored courtyard at the top of the entrance stairs, with a few struggling plants in pots along the bare wall, which he later learned were lovingly cultivated by Gloria, surviving despite the constant heat and humidity of summer, the dryness of winter, just to have a few touches of greenery in an otherwise barren environ. There were a few places in Bahrein where palm trees grew around a permanent waterhole; he was later taken to visit one by some of the friends, seeing the "sights" of the town, but otherwise it was barren and sandy, so much sand. The room in which they were sitting was sparsely furnished but home-like; he was comforted to see the framed 'Greatest Name' – it was like being in the home of other Bahá'ís whom he knew, it was a common bond that circled the globe. There was a fragrance, too, that reminded him of Haifa – or was it just the spirit he could feel, an almost tangible atmosphere.
Without a word being spoken, he could sense the bareness and deprivation that comes with pioneering in such a place – a bareness that was, as he later understood, more than compensated for by the love and spirit of the community that had grown around the first pioneers, many of them choosing Bahrein as their pioneering post simply to be close to Faizi. He was later told that some of those who had come to join them had been Faizi's students in the village of Najafábád where he had gone in the late 1930s, following the closure of Bahá'í schools in Iran.
He was well aware that one of the hallmarks of pioneering was deprivation – doing without all those things one was used to at home. But in none of the "pioneering" places he had yet experienced was that sense of deprivation so tangible. One day, while walking through the local market with Gloria, she paused outside a shop, looking long at a couple of figurines in the window – a pair of green gazelles, made from some metal. He knew from the wistful expression on her face that she would dearly love to buy them, but they were a luxury that her restricted budget would not permit. It was only a small thing, but he long remembered it – even making a mental note to look for something similar to send her when he reached home. He never found a pair of figurines just like those, but it stayed in his mind. It seemed symbolic of the many things that the pioneer willingly gives up for the joy of serving the Cause. But it also seemed that in Bahrein the call for "giving up" was more insistent.
Immediately following their initial meeting, and accepting Faizi's advice the visitor moved into a local "Arab" hotel – a move strongly cautioned against by the airways people but a place which he found not only safe but most hospitable and friendly. On Faizi's suggestion, over breakfast the following morning he made it known to the owner/manager, a local Arab businessman, that although coming from a Western Christian background, as a Bahá'í he had also embraced a firm belief in Muhammad as the Messenger of God. He was impressed, as Faizi knew he would be.
Over the next few days he also met the several families of pioneers who made up the community living on the islands of Manama and Moharraq, and together formed a warm and loving community which the young visitor found truly unique in its unity – united to such a degree that, while he ate in a different home each evening during that short visit, he found it impossible to identify in whose home he was, such was the warmth of their hospitality, each one eager to serve the guest no matter whose home it was. This also seemed to him to be a reflection of the sweetness, of the love and spirit of service that Faizi constantly demonstrated in all his actions. It was as though the spirit of the individual, who was looked up to as an example for all, had been stamped upon the community itself, each person vying with the other in acts of service.
In the love and all-pervading feeling of unity which seemed to characterise this community of believers the visitor could glimpse some hint of what the beloved Guardian had meant when he spoke of "another pilgrimage with Faizi". Though not yet appointed a Hand of the Cause, already "sanctified and detached from earthly things" his daily actions were "to diffuse" among the friends those "Divine Fragrances" that are a hallmark of the Holy Places. Through his example, Faizi had brought into being a community which gave the young visitor an unforgettable vision of how man will live in the future.
Among them were the Náteq brothers, Ehsán and Rúhu'lláh, both university graduates operating together a small radio-repair shop in order to survive in their pioneering post, who had married two sisters, Parvin and Kokab, eager to pioneer – and for young girls this was the only way possible – along with their mother, Soreyyeh, and Kokab's small baby, all of them living in the one small home. There were Manuchre and Sháhnaz Agáhi – "Jet" the friends called him, for his fast driving; Ehsán and Manijeh Esfaháni, who gave the visitor a treasured copy of the Rubiyyat; Hussain Rafieh – they called him "Refrigerator", always bundled up in an overcoat despite what was, to the visitor, a mild winter climate. There were others – Heshmatu'lláh and Minoo Sabet; Ráhmatu'lláh Jaberi, the carpenter; and a number of other families – the Ansáris, the Azádis, the Shaykhizádehs, the Rawhánis, and the Abdurahimzádehs – and so many beautiful children, all families who had followed Faizi and Gloria to this pioneering outpost in the Persian Gulf and created, as though it were a reflection of his all-encompassing love, a community that was, to the visitor, a glimpse of what the future world will be. He also met one day an old believer – Mr Saroosh who, dressed in Arab garb, was practising to act and look like an itinerant Arab healer, in preparation for pioneering deeper into Arabia. This he was planning to do soon, on foot and with a small box of local medicines. These were all pioneers from Iran, inspired to follow and emulate the one they loved so dearly.
And there were some others: Ahmad Mohseni and his wife, Lamieh, with their four sweet children – these were the only "local" believers to have joined the Faith during the thirteen years that Faizi and Gloria had been at their pioneering post, whose declaration had caused such great trauma for the whole community and almost brought about their expulsion from the island – but that is another story told elsewhere.
There was another believer whom he met – but secretly, as her declaration had not been made known to the community, such was the ever-present danger and threat of persecution under which they all lived. As Faizi had remarked, "Knowledge the friends do not have cannot be demanded of them". This was a middle-aged lady, wife of a wealthy Arab merchant who was aware of her acceptance of Bahá'u'lláh and was prepared to permit it, so long as it was not made public knowledge. Hence the need for secrecy as a protection for the community – he had indeed threatened to have them all expelled if word of it ever leaked out. But as the visitor was returning from a meeting with the Guardian, it was arranged for him to visit with her briefly, to share with her the spirit of that meeting, Faizi and Gloria translating and conversing with her in French.
One quality which the visitor had perceived in Faizi at their initial meeting in Australia was an almost super-human expression of humility, a total lack of the 'ego' that separates man from the animal, and is his ultimate spiritual downfall. Indeed it was precisely this that attracted him so strongly to this remarkable man – and, through this, to the Faith itself. During the days of his visit with him in Bahrein, time and time again he was to witness examples of this distinguishing quality. And yet, along with this, there was in him a distinct air of nobility; he walked like a prince and, when he walked through the market, others seemed to step aside as if to pay their respects to this kingly figure. Gloria had remarked to him that Faizi bore himself like a 'prince' with a dignity that surpassed that of the local sheiks, proud and arrogant as they were. And it was true – he had noticed this himself. It was a combination of qualities that amazed the young visitor. Often he thought: "This is what it must have been like to be in the presence of the Master". Though he well knew that Faizi would have rejected the comparison, it was the only one he could find, and the thought never left him.
Walking together through the local market one day, Faizi paused alongside a disabled man in a makeshift wheelchair, spoke a few kind words in Arabic and quietly dropped a few coins into his lap. A few steps further on he stopped and almost apologetically said, "He did not really beg for it, did he." His remark was a little lost on the young visitor, unaware at the time of Bahá'u'lláh's injunction against giving to beggars. But later he realized the import of Faizi's action and comment: that he knew the person's circumstances and out of the pure love that he felt for all human beings he wished to help him. It was just what 'Abdu'l-Bahá would have done.
So many incidents and actions bear witness to his self-effacement: his insistence that he have no title, even preferring to be known simply as "Faizi" without any title whatsoever – and indeed that is how he is being referred to in the record of this visit, out of respect for that expressed wish of his. It is also seen in his desire that nothing in connection with his own life ever be celebrated, not even remembering his own birth-date, feeling unworthy to mention it, wishing only to celebrate the birthdays of the "Most Exalted" and the "All-Glorious" – the twin Manifestations of God.
Another example of this deep and sincere humility that Faizi demonstration in his life came to the visitor at a later stopover, in Bombay. There a couple of the youth had been asked to take care of the needs of the visitor, and one of them told him that at the time of the New Delhi Conference she had been made responsible for meeting and looking after overseas visitors, and one of these had been a believer from Bahrein Island. In her youthful enthusiasm and knowing it was a rather primitive place and someone coming from there probably knew little English, on meeting him at the airport she spoke to him with very simple words, and he replied in similar language. Feeling rather pleased with herself for handling so well a difficult situation, she was later shocked to see her visitor on the conference platform, not only speaking in fluent and beautiful English but translating so skillfully the talks of others. She realised then that Faizi – who was 'her' visitor of the day before – though himself very fluent in English, had responded to her in the same way as she had spoken, simply so as not to hurt her feelings or embarrass her. From this experience she shared the young boy's amazement that any human being could demonstrate such humility.
Faizi's humility was shown to the friends in so many ways. Years later, in 1975, the young visitor's wife was in Haifa on pilgrimage and with a group of friends – one of them showering praises on Faizi and the other Hands, and questioning him about their station. His response was both touching and instructive: "We must not think too much about 'station' – we are all servants of the Blessed Beauty, working together for the Cause". He also begged the friends present in that gathering not to praise the Hands of the Cause. "Hearing the praise of the friends is not good for us", he said. At a conference in Melbourne in 1969, he had said that we should "empty ourselves of all self and ego. Then Bahá’u’lláh will guide our steps".
Often in his talks with the friends he compared human ego to a sharp knife, and life's journey to a person climbing a steep cliff on a rope: at any time during that climb, he said, the knife could cut the rope, even if one were near to the top of the climb. It was obvious to those close to him, and even those who met him only briefly, that the edge of his own 'knife' was dulled and blunt through a life of conscious self-effacement.
Another quality that was an over-arching theme in Faizi's life – and was glimpsed briefly by the visitor in their initial meeting at Faizi's home – was his absolute obedience to the wishes of the beloved Guardian. He was told during his visit of the trauma that Ahmad Mohseni's declaration had caused for the community some years previously. After twelve long years in their pioneering post, he was the first in Bahrein to declared his belief in Bahá'u'lláh – and he was not even of the local Arab community but a descendant of Iranians who had settled there some generations before. This had caused such an upheaval that the authorities had ordered that all the Bahá'ís must leave the island.
By this time Faizi had long since lost his job with the Anglo-Iranian oil company, solely because of his adherence to a religion that was considered "an heretical sect" and was teaching English privately. One among the locals who was not happy with his imminent departure was the British Agent, an official filling the role of ambassador or trade consul for Britain, whose son was one of Faizi's students. Eager to help in his predicament but seemingly powerless, he was lamenting with Faizi the threat of losing his services as a teacher and assumed that, because of the time they had been living there, he would no longer have his Iranian nationality.
One of the firm instructions that the Guardian had given Faizi when he first pioneered to Bahrein – and to all those who were seeking to serve the Cause in the Arabian region – was that they should never give up their Iranian nationality, no matter how much difficulty this may cause them. Faizi and the others had followed this instruction to the letter and had held onto their Iranian passport, adhering strictly to the wishes of Shoghi Effendi. When this was mentioned to the British Agent he was so happy, exclaiming that because they were 'foreign nationals' they came under his jurisdiction, and not that of the civil authorities – and so he was able to countermand the order for their expulsion. Gloria told the visitor that, all through, she had refused to prepare or pack for their departure, firmly convinced that some way to stay would be found, as indeed it was – through their strict obedience to the instructions of the Guardian.
Another characteristic that the friends really enjoyed in Faizi was his keen sense of humour, derived from his great joy of life. The visitor had witnessed this during his first brief meeting with Faizi at the summer school in Australia where he and Mr Furútan met with all those friends whom they did not actually travel to visit. He saw it again during his visit to Bahrein and later when they were travelling together in the north island of Japan in 1967. At the hotel in Sapporo where they were staying the cleaning lady had accidentally thrown out his medication and he needed to cut short his visit and return to Tokyo where further supplies could be obtained. He told the friends gathered in the village of Shiraoi, where many of the Ainu people had joined the Faith, that he could not be with them for a large gathering the following day and said: "Dear friends, you know that in His book of law Bahá'u'lláh has forbidden the 'kissing of hands'. This is why the Guardian has given us the Auxiliary Board members" indicating one who was present. "Please, you kiss him instead".
Over the years after he left Bahrein Island the young visitor kept in touch with the one whose life he tried in vain to emulate. Occasional letters were received, usually just when they were most needed. Once when difficulties of ego were being experienced in the small community where he was then living, in far northern Australia, a letter was received which provided the very guidance and spiritual sustenance that was needed. It was written from Paris, France, where Faizi had been sent by the Hands in the Holy Land to resolve the unfortunate disturbance that had been caused through Mason Remey's false claims and defection. In it Faizi wrote of the difficulties communities often experience by our being too concerned over the actions of others. He drew the analogy of the Paris Metro – the fast and very efficient underground rail system in that city – and someone complaining over a single cigarette butt left on the seat of a carriage, yet ignoring the marvelous efficiency of the rail system itself, comparing this to our anxiety over some small omission on the part of the friends while not appreciating the majesty and efficacy of the system that Bahá'u'lláh has brought. He wrote, on 23rd June 1960:
"Yesterday a friend was talking to me about some very insignificant mistake of a member of one of the committees and he was so insistent that he was urging me to take his voting right because of a very little mistake. We were crossing Paris in the underground Metro which are really wonders of speed, exact timing and practicability, when our friend emptied his heart. I told him: 'My dear brother, your statement resembles that of a person who puts aside all this exact, quick and regular movements of the Metro and how very useful it is for the people, and spends his whole time on a stub of a cigarette which some- one by mistake has left on the bench. You see hundreds of people come and go, and each one has a destination towards which he is hurrying and the Metros are taking them to different directions with wonderful rapidity and really miraculous exactitude. No one looks at the dead cigarette on the bench.In that same letter he also spoke of the effects that Mason Remey's unfortunate actions had on the friends in France – the only national assembly to give support to Remey's claim. [On this episode, see Robert Stockman's encyclopedia article Remey, Charles Mason.]
Now the whole world is crying out of hunger that they have for their share of this bread of life. The banquet is spread by the mighty hands of Bahá'u'lláh and people are gathering round it. Some find the food delicious and they still want more. Some do not touch the table. Some do not even approach. Now in the midst of all such great chances of service, sacrifice and winning victory for the Cause, do you want me to waste my time for some very insignificant matter which does not have any bearing on the main problem of the Cause?'
…. if you have any power in yourself, try to make the believers everywhere to turn their hearts and attentions towards the glory, majesty and immensity of the Cause. It is the day promised by all the Prophets of God. Did they want us to waste the precious hours of such a great Day on petty problems? It is the Day when the secrets of earth will be revealed, the secrets of hearts and souls will be opened, the tremendous powers of God are released and mankind will be able to know the secrets of everything, and this handful of dust will become a mirror of the Kingdom on High."
"My trip to Paris took place on the occasion of Mason's unfounded claim and the misunderstanding which was caused by some foolish, unripe and childish members of the French NSA. … three members, due to their hatred against some people, united together and won two other members to their own side and thus got the majority of the NSA and decided to accept Mason as the 2nd Guardian. This very step led them to many other foolish steps which they were forced to take afterwards and thus cause so much trouble for themselves and for the newly enrolled believers in France. …Faizi referred to this unfortunate incident some years later, in a way that reflected so clearly his great love and compassion for all the believers, writing that the Hands in the Holy Land still "hoped that Mason would repent" of his action, and the Hands "would welcome him back into the Faith". Of course, he never did. He himself felt that Mason Remey's actions had been a result of the mental stress brought on by Shoghi Effendi's untimely passing. He was always willing to forgive, even in this extreme circumstance.
Thanks to God that the news reached Haifa and they sent me immediately to France. First the NSA was met and the five disloyal members resigned, the NSA was dissolved, then I went to every center in France, saw the friends, talked to them, made every point clear and then advised them to go on with the election of a new NSA."
Another overriding quality that had deeply impressed the young visitor in all his meetings with Faizi was his absolute submission to the Will of God and to the wishes of the beloved Guardian. Faizi himself expressed this so beautifully in a letter written some time after that most traumatic of all happenings, for the Hands of the Cause and for all the believers around the world. He wrote, in June 1958:
"Tomorrow will be one complete year that I am far from Bahrein, the lovely friends and their children. Believe me, I am at a loss how to relate the story of this past year. All through, I had been like a bush thrown on the torrent of the Will of God and carried about.As always, this letter was accompanied by a small packet of pressed flowers, beautifully arranged on the card like a Persian carpet. It was just another expression of Faizi's warmth and caring for each of the friends.
On the 27th of June 1957, I went out of Bahrein to go to Kuwait for the NSA meeting and I promised my wife, children and friends that I would return within 10 to 20 days. In the last session of the NSA, even after the final prayer, suddenly some one suggested that I should go to Teheran and discuss many of the NSA problems with the NSA of Persia and return after 20 days. I sent a telegram to Bahrein and informed them of my 20 day trip to Teheran. In Teheran they asked me to teach about two weeks in the summer school. The SS was ended and then I was asked to make a trip to Germany … to see the Persian youths. Again I informed Bahrein of my two months trip to Europe. I was touring in Germany when they again asked me to participate in the summer school in Switzerland. It was most wonderful to be there and when finished I returned to Germany to resume my trip, and it was in Frankfurt that I heard the saddest news of the whole world and flew to London, whence I came here [Haifa] and have to stay at least till ' 63.
I had no will of myself in any of these events. They came over me just like waves of the ocean of the mighty Will of God."
While always knowing in his heart that it was Faizi who had brought him into the Faith, the visitor had never spoken of this to him, and yet years later it was confirmed in an unexpected way. Both happened to be in Japan at the same time – this was in late 1967 - and he was attending a gathering of the friends in Tokyo where Faizi was already present. As he entered the room one of the pioneers in Japan called to Faizi that a visitor from Australia had arrived, asking, "Do you know him?" Faizi responded as he walked towards the entrance, "Know him? I brought him into the Faith". He also had known that at their first meeting in 1953 he had touched a heart that could never be the same again. During the years of his later travels so many souls around the world were to be touched in the same way by Faizi, by his ineffable sweetness and love, and become one of his countless "spiritual children".
Reporting later on his talks, the school committee recorded that all “were absorbed with rapt attention – a new horizon opened, flooding hearts with devotion and awe”. The committee also reported on the success of the school to the Guardian and received, in response, through his secretary: “He was very happy that the honoured Hand of the Cause, Mr Furútan, and Mr Faizi, could be with you at this session … and he is sure they were the cause of great happiness and deep enkindlement of the friends present.”
Mr Faizi’s knowledge of the teachings and history of Islam was vast – as one might well expect, because that was the cultural milieu in which he grew up – but his knowledge and understanding of the Christian faith was also far greater than one might expect. Coming from a ‘Christian’ background, I found I was learning so much from him about the religion that was basic to my own background. He was a ‘true’ student of religion – all religion without barrier – and had read widely. History was also his passion, and he suggested historians who were impartial in their assessment, uninfluenced by national interests. He recommended Thomas Carlyle, Will Durant and Toynbee, as historians who were free from prejudice.
On his next visit to Australia late in 1969, he spoke at the first Counsellors’ Conference in Melbourne on his ‘special’ topic: the importance of child education. He compared the mind of man to a precious jewel which needs to be polished and spoke of the three kinds of education: physical, human and divine, saying that we must understand the difference between education and instruction, which was simply the transfer of knowledge from one person to another. He stressed that human knowledge must go hand in hand with divine knowledge and it is more important to commence a child’s education with training in manners, politeness and kindliness. Without this, he said, science and knowledge can be a deadly poison. Mr Faizi said that the greatest crime a Bahá’í can commit is not giving a child religious education, leaving the child to find its own way. And this education should start when the child is in the womb, with the mother’s prayers – as the reading of the Words of Bahá’u’lláh influences the soul of the unborn child.
Mr Faizi had a great love for children; he saw in them the future of the Cause – and it disturbed him greatly that many parents in the West – at least in Australia – had mistakenly ‘neglected’ their children’s education on the grounds of “independent investigation of the truth”, feeling that a child must be given the freedom to choose and, in the process, neglecting to give them any spiritual guidance at all. On his first visit to Australia he had seen the result of this in the failure of a number of the grown children of the early Bahá’ís in Australia to follow the faith of their parents, and he alerted us to this danger. His clarification of this important issue had a very beneficial effect on the Australian community.
A few weeks later in Japan we heard him assure a group of the friends, including a number of pioneers, that wherever he had travelled he had found that any deprivation that the pioneers may suffer or feel they are submitting their children to had never had any adverse effect on the children – they had never suffered any disadvantage from their parents’ pioneering.
On many occasions we were able to directly observe his love and affinity for children. One morning – while we were staying in the same hotel in Hokkaido, Japan, in 1967 – we found him offering our eighteen-month-old daughter sugar cubes from the dining-room table, which she of course relished. Wherever he was, if children were present, he would always pay them due attention, talking with them and drawing out the shy ones – attention to which they always responded, and no doubt remembered as they grew older.
Addressing the conference, he told the friends that the main purpose of his visit was to deepen the friends and stressed the importance of the Hidden Words which he called “a nucleus of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh” because it represents “the embryonic stage of the universal plan of God to help man on his spiritual journey”. During his visit he conducted deepening sessions on studying the Hidden Words, suggesting that each verse be identified as red and green traffic lights, indicating when we must ‘stop’ from taking a certain action and when it is permissible to ‘go’ ahead – it was a topic which he was heard speaking about on a number of occasions in communities throughout the world.
My first meeting with Mr Furútan was before I became a Bahá’í, at a time when I was just investigating the Faith, and he had visited Australia at the behest of the beloved Guardian after the Intercontinental Conference in New Delhi, India, that launched the Ten Year Crusade, in October 1953. He had been instructed by the Guardian to meet with every believer in Australia and, for this purpose, he was accompanied by Mr Faizi, then an Auxiliary Board member for the Hands of the Cause in Asia, as his interpreter. Mr Furútan himself had been appointed as a Hand of the Cause only two years before and, though fluent in Arabic, Persian and Russian, his English was still quite rudimentary and whenever he spoke at any length it was translated by Mr Faizi – which was rather unfair, really, because his station, even his presence was little felt, and we all fell in love with Mr Faizi.
They spent some three days in Leeton, the small country town where I was living, visiting with the two young Bahá’ís who were then pioneering in Leeton under the Australian Six Year Plan (which preceded the Ten Year Crusade) and then we drove them to Wagga to meet with another isolated believer - she introduced herself as “an Anglican Bahá’í” and disappeared from the record soon afterwards – and then by plane back to Sydney. The plan was that they would be meeting with as many of the friends who could attend the annual summer school at Yerrinbool in December-January, and would travel the quite considerable distances to meet with all other members of the Australian community. The two Bahá’ís in Leeton – Noel and Margaret Bluett – were not intending to attend the summer school, hence their visit to Leeton, but the impact their visit had on me was such that I insisted on seeing them again at the summer school, and so Noel and Margaret also shared in that unexpected bounty.
My impression of Mr Furútan at that initial meeting was of an elderly gentleman, very polite and quietly spoken – he seemed to be a generation older than Mr Faizi, and it was quite a surprise to learn later that he was actually only one year older! Also his health was not the best at the time; I remember that at the summer school he ate very sparingly and took quiet walks after each meal, and seemed to be very much in the shadow of Mr Faizi – no doubt other, more experienced Bahá’ís saw him in a different light. But his knowledge of the Faith and related issues was obviously immense and he commanded the respect of everyone gathered for the summer school.
He addressed the friends there on the importance of the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in four sessions, covering aspects of how and why earlier religions – Christianity and Islám – had divided into sects and how this will be different in the Bahá’í dispensation; issues relating to the powers invested in the Will and Testament for expounding the Faith and for legislating, and the avoidance of Covenant-breakers. It was probably the first time issues such as these had been thoroughly explored at such depth by someone with his knowledge and deep understanding.
Much of his time at the school was spent in answering questions from the friends who had previously no one so experienced and knowledgeable to ask, and his talks revealed a deep understanding of the Faith that was most impressive. His lack of fluency in English was to some degree a barrier to understanding but one could feel that here was a source of immense spiritual knowledge and understanding, which was difficult to reach and fully appreciate.
When the National Spiritual Assembly sent a report to the Guardian on the visit, Shoghi Effendi replied, through his secretary: “He feels sure that the visit of the dear Hand of the Cause, Mr Furútan, accompanied by Mr Faizi, did a tremendous amount of good. Mr Furútan has since made the pilgrimage to Haifa, and spoke very highly to the Guardian of the believers in that part of the world, whom he grew to love and admire very much during his visit.”
Mr Furútan’s next visit to Australia was in October 1971, by which time my own experience in the Faith and appreciation of his station had grown. He visited all states and capitals, meeting with the friends and encouraging them in the teaching activities which were, at that time moving into the stage of mass enrolments. Once again he inspired the friends in his inimitable way – we were living in Melbourne at that time and saw the magical effect that his words had on the friends there. It was a busy time; we had also had a visit, at the request of the Universal House of Justice, from three believers well experienced in mass teaching in the southern states of the U.S.A. So the community that Mr Furútan encountered this time was vastly different from the scattered communities of his visit in 1953. And his command of English had improved immensely – no need for a translator now, as he charmed the friends with his delightful mixture of jest and seriousness. This time we could appreciate his words, directly; and could see more clearly his deep understanding of the teachings.
My next meeting with Mr Furútan was in Hong Kong, at one of the intercontinental conferences celebrating the midway point of the Five Year Plan in November 1976. Having spent a good deal of his time travelling and visiting communities in many lands, his fluency in English had increased, and he delighted the friends gathered at the conference by explaining the intricacies and anomalies in the pronunciation of English: “They say, we will ‘go by foot’, but I use both my feet, so it should be ‘go by feet’.” He also told the story of his visit to Perth, Australia, in 1953 when the friends wanted him to visit one of the believers in hospital, and they said, “We will go to the hospital today” but I did not want to go to the hospital to die!” – making fun, in a kindly way, of how English is pronounced in Australia.
Not only had his English improved out of sight but his power of expression enabled us to clearly see the towering giant that Mr Furútan was, in a spiritual sense. He spoke of his many experiences that gave insight into the urgency of the Faith’s needs at that time. He told another story of his visit to Australia, of parents who had approached him with their concern that their young daughter, hardly out of school, desperately wanted to pioneer to one of the goal areas; they felt she was too young and wanted him to dissuade her. But the girl’s desire was so strong that he felt he could only encourage her, and he told the parents they should agree and let her go. The young girl did pioneer with her parents’ blessing and soon afterwards fell ill and died; only she knew of the urgency and, in her desire to serve, wanted to fill the goal while she was still able to. As filling pioneer and travel teaching goals was one of the main issues for the conference, it was a very inspiring story for many of the friends.
He also told the friends that it was during that visit to Australia that he first noticed people shutting their eyes while praying, or listening to prayers read at gatherings. This was something he was not used to – apparently it was not the custom of the Iranian friends – but he tried it out, and found that it was very effective in helping one to concentrate on the prayer itself.
The conference organisers had warned the friends attending that Mr Furútan’s health was of some concern – he had not been well and needed as much rest as possible; so they were urged not to keep him talking in the evenings, so that he could get a good night’s rest. Bahá’ís, however, are incorrigible talkers when they gather together, and late at night there were many groups of believers conversing in the hotel lounge and foyer. And with them on every evening was dear Mr Furútan, still awake, bright and sharing himself till the last of the late-stayers staggered off to bed.
It was around the same time that Mr Furútan also visited Japan and we were with him for several days in Kyoto where he addressed a public meeting in one of the city’s larger venues – his talk was on child education, and many teachers and other people involved in education had been invited. It was a large and very ‘academic’ attendance, yet in making a point about the difference between ‘teaching’ and education’ he had that audience enthusiastically repeating Farsi and English words in unison – pointing out that this was simply ‘teaching’, something vastly different from ‘education’, which was effecting a change in attitudes. Despite the language barrier – as his talk had to be translated into Japanese – he had that wonderful ability to carry a large audience with him. One was reminded of the wording in the Master’s Will and Testament relating to the functions of the Hands of the Cause: to ‘edify the souls of men’ and to ‘promote learning’.
The last time I saw Mr Furútan was while on a three-day visit to the World Centre in the summer of 1996. He had come out to be with the pilgrims in the evening, and had to be assisted by the young Iranian lad who was serving as his driver. He was physically frail but the spark was still in his eyes, as he greeted the pilgrims gathered in the Pilgrim House, individually – speaking a few words with each of them. I knew in my heart it was close to the end of an era.
Mother Dunn was already in her mid-eighties by the time I became a Bahá’í – quite old and frail but with a keen mind and a twinkle in her eye – and I was fortunate to be able to meet and listen to her on a number of occasions over the next six years. At that time Mother Dunn was living in a small apartment at the National Headquarters, 2 Lang Road, Paddington. The building had originally been a doctor’s residence and there were two rooms alongside the main entrance which had been used as office and consulting room. This was where Mother Dunn’s small flat was. It had its own entrance, giving her some privacy, and could be accessed directly from inside the main building – it was an ideal set-up for her. In later years she moved to Adelaide where she stayed with Eric and Marjorie Bowes, but she still used the ‘flat’ whenever she needed to be in Sydney.
Along with other youth at the time, I used to go to the National Headquarters whenever I was passing through Sydney and always called in to see Mother Dunn. So on a number of occasions, I had the pleasure – and great privilege, though I did not realise it at the time – of being with her briefly, and listening to her talking about the early days of the Faith in Australia. She seldom spoke about her life in the United States and how she became a Bahá’í, but this we all learned from the precious interview that Hand of the Cause Collis Featherstone arranged for her to record on tape her learning of the Faith from Hyde Dunn in the small country town of Walla Walla, Washington State, and how she travelled by train to San Francisco to meet with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. But she did speak a great deal about Father Dunn and how she ‘helped him’ to establish the Faith in Australia – that was how she always put it.
On one occasion when I was visiting her and we – several of the youth and I – were preparing to leave, she asked us all to say a prayer. When it came to my turn, I had to confess that I had no book with me. She said that was okay and I could say one by heart – which almost made my own heart stop, because at that time I had not memorized any prayers. I told her this, and she said, “Well, say the Báb’s prayer” – that was what we knew as the Remover of Difficulties, a very short prayer. I had to admit that even that one I had not memorized. “Not even that one, George!” – so she handed me a book, which I searched through quickly for the shortest possible prayer. She always called me “George” – she thought it highly amusing that I had the name of Washington, and yet I was not American.
Prayer, and the way Mother Dunn used prayers, was perhaps the aspect of her life that most people remembered, and were very much affected by. To her, prayer was truly ‘conversation with God’ in the fullest sense – not a little ‘chat’ with Him whenever we really need help, but rather she was deeply aware that our prayers are addressed to God and must be uttered with that in mind. Whenever she recited a prayer in a gathering of the friends it was not like someone well versed in oratory, reciting a memorized passage with feeling and fervour. It was an expression of the awe and utter dependence that she felt within; it was an outward revealing of the feeling that was deep inside her. It was truly a revelation of the inner self, as though she were reciting the prayer in the ‘privacy of her chamber’ but allowing others to be present, to share in her expression of devotion.
In saying the prayers she seemed fully aware that these words came from a divine source, and she never hurried. Each phrase was voiced with deep feeling; she seemed to caress each word lovingly in the knowledge that these words had been sanctioned by the Manifestation for use in the presence of God, for addressing our innermost feelings to our Creator. Others have likened her prayers to the performance of a skilled musician, or an orchestra where the players are themselves transformed by the beauty of the music and pass this transformation on to the audience.
Listening to her reciting the prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, one could also feel her tremendous reliance on the power of prayer – using prayer as a means of accessing that divine power which could alone achieve the goal that Father and Mother Dunn had set out to achieve in pioneering to Australia. Each time we heard her pray, it was an object lesson to us all, a lesson in spiritual attitude and reliance on God, and it was a lesson that many of the early believers had learned well. In those early days, there was a reliance on the power of prayer that seems to have diminished with the growth of the community and the passing of time. The early believers of the Australian community really ‘used’ prayer and relied upon it – prayer and the Greatest Name – and this they had learned from Father and Mother Dunn. I was privileged beyond measure to witness this from its source, during the closing years of Mother Dunn’s life.
Of course, this was something she had learned from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself, and I noticed that she always seemed to use the prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, prayers from the Tablets of the Divine Plan which had been the call for them to come to Australia. Whenever the community gathered in Sydney, if she was present Mother Dunn was always asked to say a prayer and inevitably she would choose a prayer of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The prayer commencing with the words: “O Lord! My haven in my distress …” was one that she often used and it came to be known amongst the early believers as ‘Mother Dunn’s prayer’. This is a prayer that we have recorded in her own voice – thanks to the diligence of Collis Featherstone – and it is a very precious archive, one that I cannot listen to today without its conjuring up Mother’s face in my mind. Her voice was quite characteristic – broad American with a slight Irish brogue. There was another from those same tablets that she called Father Dunn’s prayer – she said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had revealed it specially for Father Dunn – and these, generally, were among the favourite prayers of those early believers.
Mother Dunn also held her hands, palms upwards, in her lap whenever she was praying – this she had probably seen ‘Abdu’l-Bahá doing, and she had unconsciously followed His example. And many of the early believers had also copied her action. Sharing an evening of prayers with a group of local believers in the New Hebrides in 1958, I suddenly noticed that all were sitting with their hands in their laps, palms facing up. As one of those very early believers, Bertha Dobbins had picked it up from Mother Dunn and had unwittingly passed it on to a new generation of Bahá’ís. Such small actions are the source of rituals; it is no wonder that the Guardian warned us against the adoption of traditional rituals in our Bahá’í life.
Mother Dunn also had a deep sense of humility. Whenever she spoke of her past experiences, her stories were always told as a bystander – it was Father Dunn who had achieved this or that success; she had only helped him; she had stood beside him. It was Father Dunn who had brought the enquirer, it was Father Dunn who held a fruitful fireside or spoke at a public meeting where someone had declared. She had been there merely to support him. And yet in those very early days, when Father Dunn had been too ill even to seek employment, it was Mother Dunn who had earned their keep, ensuring they had the means to remain in their pioneering goal. Her humility was perhaps best expressed in her response to the news in February 1952 that she had been appointed a Hand of the Cause – her cabled reply to the Guardian said that she was “humbled to the dust”. She told the friends around her that she had never expected anything like that.
Mother Dunn had a delightful sense of humour and a very keen wit – she was, after all, of Irish descent. Bertha Dobbins once told me that Mother used to perch herself on the arm of the chair where her husband, Joe, was sitting and stroke his hair, or what was left of it – always making sure out of the corner of her eye that Bertha was watching. She loved to tease people, but did it in a kindly way. She spoke jokingly of her own “forgettery” which seemed to improve as time passed. Later on, her memory did start to slip, as I will relate further on, but she always retained that sharpness of mind that made her a delight to listen to, and the youth always took the opportunity to be with her whenever they could.
She was also a great ‘knitter’ and would often talk with the friends visiting in her room while knitting a woollen scarf – nothing too complicated – usually in red and green, scarves which she was continually giving a gifts to the friends. She was often in bed when she greeted visitors, or wandering around in her dressing gown, quite relaxed. Books were also scattered across her bedside table, sometimes open where she had been reading, with several calendars pinned to the wall behind the bed-head – not that she needed a calendar in those days but she liked the pictures that came with them.
Her acquisition of the title ‘Mother’ came about in a serendipitous way. One of the early believers, writing a letter to Clara Dunn, had addressed her as “Dear Mother” – and she recalled a dream she had once had that she would be widely called ‘Mother’ some day. She wrote at once to the Guardian asking him if they should allow the friends to call them ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’, and his reply eased her mind: “Yes, you are as their parents”. They were, indeed, spiritual parents of the entire community of the continent, and their family was destined to grow much larger, through the Pacific islands and beyond.
There is one story of Mother Dunn that is quite precious, and speaks volumes for her kindness and deep consideration for others. She attended the first national convention in New Zealand as the representative of the beloved Guardian – the convention that gave New Zealand its own National Assembly, separating it from Australia – and she was accompanied by her two Auxiliary Board members: Collis Featherstone and Thelma Perks – this was Ridván 1957. Thelma had accompanied her on the flight from Sydney to Auckland – she often travelled with her as her companion and also financed a great deal of her travel and living expenses during her later years; she had the resources and had no family of her own. Thelma and Mother Dunn were staying at the same hotel, with Thelma occupying the room next to Mother’s and on retiring that night she told Mother that if she needed anything during the night she should call her, insisting that whatever and whenever it was, she must call her.
First thing in the morning Thelma went to Mother’s room to check how she had slept – and found her lying underneath a rather large wardrobe. This was before ‘built-in’ furniture and the wardrobes were usually large and free-standing. During the night Mother had wanted to close or open the window – one of those old sash-cord windows that are often hard to move, and needing a little more leverage, she had hauled herself up by clinging to the wardrobe, lost her balance and had pulled the wardrobe over on herself. Pinned to the floor she could not move, so spent the rest of the night beneath the wardrobe. As she said to an agitated Thelma in the morning: “I didn’t want to disturb you, dear.”
That was quite typical of Mother Dunn: she would go well out of her way to help someone but would never expect anyone else to help her. She was kindness personified. Photographs of her arriving at the Convention the following day show Mother Dunn being helped from the car by Collis Featherstone and Manoochehr ‘Ala’í; she could barely walk unaided and suffered her injured back in silence throughout that convention.
As Mother grew older she became increasingly more frail and her memory deteriorated a little. At one gathering in Sydney, I remember, she was asked, as usual, to say a prayer to close the session. She rose to her feet, and began: “Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was … that’s not right, is it, Collis.” Collis rose beside her – he was chairing the session – and gently placing his arm across her shoulders, said: “No, Mother – it’s ‘O Lord! My haven in my distress …’ ” – and she was off with the prayer, reciting it faultlessly.
Collis was always by her side, and she relied completely upon him. When she appointed her Auxiliary Board members at the National Convention in 1954, she rose and explained that the Guardian had asked her to appoint two individuals to assist her in her work, and placed her hand on the shoulder of Collis Featherstone who was sitting beside her, chairing the session, and said: “I appoint Collis, and Thelma Perks, standing at the back of the room.” Collis had listened intently to the clarification of the functions of the institution of the Hands of the Cause and their auxiliary institutions by the Guardian while they were on pilgrimage, and had studied all he could find about the Hands of the Cause. With a deep appreciation of Mother Dunn’s station, he had served her with love and devotion from the time of her appointment in February 1952, and she knew that she could rely on him in any situation.
Thelma also had for many years been a companion and support for Mother Dunn, accompanying her on many teaching trips. She had heard of the Faith and met some early believers in New York; she had promised May Maxwell that she would look up the Dunns when she returned to Sydney, which she did and was much attracted to the Faith. It was not until 1947, however, that she actually declared, although she had been helping Mother Dunn even before then, and her support increased with the years, while the Australian Bahá’ís were pursuing their Six Year teaching plan.
Mother Dunn was able to travel to Haifa for the first Conclave of the Hands of the Cause in November 1957 but was too frail at attend the Conclave the following year. It always seemed unfortunate that Mother Dunn did not live to see the dedication of the House of Worship in 1961 but she was present at the dedication of the site ceremony, as part of the Continental Conference in Sydney, March 1958, when she placed a small casket with soil from the sacred Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh and some plaster from the Báb’s cell in the prison of Máh-kú in the ground beneath the spot where the centre of the main auditorium now is. Present also at that ceremony were four other Hands of the Cause: Charles Mason Remey, appointed representative of the Guardian, Zikru’lláh Khadem, Agnes Alexander and Collis Featherstone. And as work on the construction of the House of Worship soon got under way, she certainly saw the finished building – the small ‘lantern’ on the top of the dome was lifted into place by a helicopter in May 1960.
My first meeting with Rúhíyyih Khánum came while on pilgrimage in 1957. To put this meeting into perspective, I need to digress a little. Frank Wyss and I had planned to go on pilgrimage together, even before I had formally declared – Frank was one of the handful of Bahá’í youth in Australia at the time and had played an important part in my nurturing in the Faith. But these plans had to be postponed due to serious persecution of the Faith that erupted in Iran in 1956, and Frank went on his own in January 1956, while I went a year later. Having been there the year before, Frank had ‘coached’ me on what I needed to know and, as he was aware of Rúhíyyih Khánum passionate interest in indigenous peoples, sent with me, as gifts to her, several aboriginal articles: a boomerang, a woomera (throwing stick) and short spear, and a stick of wood on the end of a piece of twine called a ‘bull-roarer’ that was used to warn womenfolk of a men’s-only corroboree in process.
Arriving at the pilgrim house – in those days it was the Western Pilgrim House, over the road from the House of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which was later used as the temporary seat of the Universal House of Justice – I was ushered into the main entrance foyer and was warmly greeted by Rúhíyyih Khánum herself. As the gifts that Frank had sent were accessible – the spear and woomera were actually strapped to the outside of my suitcase, being too large to fit inside – I immediately offered them to her. Her fascination and delight were evident; she remembered Frank with fondness (pilgrims were few in those days) and was so happy that he had remembered her interest in such things. But simply accepting the gifts was not her way; she insisted that they must be demonstrated on the spot. Asking what the ‘bull-roarer’ was for – and not really waiting for an answer, she swung it around there in the foyer, beneath an exquisite crystal chandelier. The whirring noise very quickly brought out Jessie Revell – who without any hesitation chastised Rúhíyyih Khánum quite sharply: that was not the place for such antics. Undeterred, Rúhíyyih Khánum marched me out to a small park beside the Pilgrim House where she had room to try out the boomerang – she knew what it was for and how to throw it, roughly. The boomerang took off, gained height and disappeared over the hedge at the end of the garden – perhaps it was not a ‘returning’ model. A moment later the surprised face of an old Arab gentleman popped up over the hedge; she had nearly decapitated him with the boomerang.
But that was her way – such gifts were not to be admired or set for decorating a shelf; they demanded to be used. One recalls the description of her that Marcus Bach gives in his book The Circle of Faith, recording his meeting with Shoghi Effendi in 1956: “… the door opened and a trim, attractive woman entered, suddenly and unannounced. She had a dog on a leash, a fur stole around her neck, and she walked like a Persian queen. Only she was American, at least I thought she was, and the piquancy with which she came in must have pleased or shocked the spirits of the old prophets who haunted the mansion room.” That describes very clearly the impression that she gave on first meeting. She gathered up the gifts that Frank had sent, obviously appreciating them, and we returned to the Pilgrim House where I was taken to the room where I would be sleeping.
During those nine unforgettable days I was to see a great deal of Rúhíyyih Khánum, for in those days the pilgrim was very much a part of the household that she managed in a quiet and effective way. She was at the dinner table each evening – or the seven evenings that were spent in Haifa, two more being in Bahji – and she played an important role in ensuring that the pilgrims were comfortable. I was quite over-awed by the experience and spoke very little, preferring to spend as much time as possible listening to Shoghi Effendi and the others there. Noticing this, on one evening she asked me directly whether I had any questions for the Guardian – for myself I didn’t, but I asked one question on behalf of someone else, as I had been requested, and it was she who made sure that I had that opportunity.
Another very personal example of this kindness she had for all who came in contact with her was again at the dinner table when the Guardian had been speaking of the plans in hand for the construction of the House of Worship in Sydney. Noting the look of surprise on my face, he added: “The friends in Australia do not know about this, except for the members of the National Assembly, and you must say nothing of it when you return home.” Rúhíyyih Khánum immediately intervened: “Oh, Shoghi Effendi, that’s a very heavy burden to place on the shoulders of a young Bahá’í.” He looked directly at me, and simply said: “He will learn”. And it was the kindness of her intervention on my behalf that I remembered.
On one occasion I accompanied her to a local second-hand dealer, helping to carry some rather heavy items. In those days many gifts – some quite expensive – were received from believers around the world, particularly from Iran, and most of these were promptly converted into funds for the International work of the Faith. She explained to me that gifts that could be used or some more personal gifts were retained, carpets were usually placed in the Shrines, as requested, often on top of several dozen other carpets, but through the services of a friendly and fair dealer, most had to be sold – there was just not room for them and the Cause was always in need of funds, somewhere. This was the practical, down-to-earth side of her nature.
On another occasion I spent the day helping Rúhíyyih Khánum and Jessie Revell paint inside a building adjoining the Eastern Pilgrim House – I think it was part of the sleeping quarters for the Iranian pilgrims. Both were practically dressed, in overalls, and were wielding large brushes to apply the kalsomine (white-wash) to the walls. Suddenly Rúhíyyih Khánum noticed a small lizard high up on the wall, being painted into the corner of the room, and she called an abrupt halt to the work while she ‘rescued’ the small creature and carried it outside to the safety of the garden. It was a small action but reflected her great love for all life and creatures.
Many years later, while on a three-day visit to the World Centre, I saw again this love of small creatures that so characterised Rúhíyyih Khánum. She had invited me to join her for afternoon tea – ‘sticky bun and tea’, as members of the World Centre staff called it – along with a family from Italy – he had worked closely with Dr Giachery in arranging for the shipment of marble stone from Italy for the Shrine and Archives building – and again this great love for creatures of all sorts was evident: the family included two young children, and at one point Rúhíyyih Khánum took them out to an adjoining area, with pot-plants and ferns, where she had some pets – small animals from South America which some friends had given her and she nurtured with great love and care.
Each evening following dinner the pilgrims would gather in the upstairs lounge, exchanging news of activities in their home countries and Bahá’í experiences. Much of this precious evening conversation was led by Rúhíyyih Khánum, sharing her own experiences and those of other recent pilgrims. She spoke of her early years in Canada when she was one of a handful of youth in the whole of North America – and how they expected the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh to materialise full-blown and almost immediately, certainly in their lifetime, and talked about establishing ‘Bahá’í villages’ – like small communes – until the Guardian told them it was not yet the time for that.
She told us stories of friends who had recently been on pilgrimage – a story of Bill Carr, pioneer to Thule, in Greenland, at that time the northern-most Bahá’í community, mentioned by the Guardian in his 1957 Ridván Message. Bill had tried to climb the terraces below the shrine, two of which the Guardian had created at the base of Mount Carmel and two more just below the Shrine gardens, and now locked off as a safety measure, as the steps built many years before were now in disrepair and not really secure. Bill had managed to climb the two barricades at the base but was stopped by the first barrier near the top – and had felt ‘spiritually unworthy’ in his inability to complete the climb of the terraces. Rúhíyyih Khánum had had to reassure him that this was not so – and this story led to further discussion on the spiritual merits of our actions. In ways such as this, Rúhíyyih Khánum added greatly to the spiritual enlightenment of the pilgrims, sharing unstintingly of her own wide experiences.
On another evening she related the story of a group of pilgrims discussing Shoghi Effendi and wondering what coloured eyes he had – some thought blue, others a darker hue. Present with the group was Saleh Jarrah who was at that time the caretaker/custodian of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh and worked very closely with the Guardian in the development of the gardens. One of the pilgrims said to him: “You are close to the Guardian, you should know what colour his eyes are.” Saleh’s response clearly demonstrated the awe and reverence with which he regarded the Guardian: “But who could look into the eyes of the Guardian?” That question has, of course, been answered in Rúhíyyih Khánum’s precious book: The Priceless Pearl in which she records for posterity so many facets of the beloved Guardian’s personality and life. For this alone we owe her an immense debt of gratitude, and for sharing so much of herself and her life with the Guardian.
This seemed to be one of her most precious contributions to the maturation of the Bahá’ís around the world, through the years following the passing of the beloved Guardian and up until her own death. She had shared a large part of her life with the beloved Guardian, living and working alongside him, and was as close to him as any other soul could be, and in this way she had absorbed a great deal of his thinking and attitude. In her extensive travels and with pilgrims at the World Centre, she was able – and very willing – to share all she had learned from him, as well as her own thoughts and views which in themselves revealed a mine rich in gems.
In the years immediately following pilgrimage, we exchanged a number of letters – initiated at first by my own need to query issues that had been raised and understandings reached during pilgrimage, seeking a fuller comprehension of these points, and later when she had some news or project that she felt would be of interest to me a letter would come. These gradually ceased as her own life became busy with travels but I always felt secure in knowing that such guidance could be sought from her at any time – it was an open sort of relationship which, I am sure, she had established with countless souls around the Bahá’í world. She was a ‘mother’ figure to so many believers.
My next personal contact with her came with the dedication of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in Sydney, in September 1961. Rúhíyyih Khánum came to Australia to officiate at this dedication – as she had with two other Houses of Worship: Wilmette in 1953 and Kampala earlier that same year (January 1961). The story of the dedication is well recorded but during her visit to Australia Rúhíyyih Khánum was not well. Her itinerary had included New Zealand and Jessie Revell, who accompanied her on the trip, had to go to Auckland in her stead. As she told the friends in Sydney at an informal gathering with the believers, her main purpose in coming was to dedicate the House of Worship and all her energies had to be reserved for that. An informal gathering of the friends in Adelaide – at that time one of the larger communities in Australia – also gave many of the believers there the opportunity to meet with her and listen to the inspiring guidance she offered us. For many at those gatherings, her words opened up new vistas of what the Faith was destined to achieve
Following the dedication, on her return journey through Malaysia and other countries, it was planned for her to stay briefly in Darwin, where the community was small – only six believers at that time – and she could have intimate contact with some of the Australian aborigines. She had met with ‘Uncle’ Fred Murray and others living around Renmark, South Australia, but this would be an opportunity to meet with aborigines who were still living within a tribal structure. It was also a great bounty for the small community of Darwin, to have Rúhíyyih Khánum and Jessie Revell all to ourselves for that brief time. They stayed in the Hotel Darwin – the only really respectable accommodation available in those days – and the smallness of the community allowed us a maximum of time with these precious visitors.
Although the break of her journey in Darwin was principally a ‘rest’ period, there was an official program: a public meeting in the CWA rooms, chaired by the Mayor of Darwin – with a talk on “All men are needed”; an interview over the local radio and with the press – we had a very close relationship with the editor of the local paper and he was very sympathetic to our need for publicity; but I also recall some of the unofficial activities: looking for an open ice-cream shop on the way home from the public meeting, because Rúhíyyih Khánum insisted that that was what she needed at that time of night – we found one – and a barbecue in the home of one of the friends with a group of young aboriginals with whom we were in contact at that time – and Rúhíyyih Khánum added a Canadian flavour to the evening by bringing some marsh-mallows, toasting them on the open barbecue fire, rather unsuccessfully as the local marsh-mallows were not quite the same as their Canadian counterpart, and drizzled into a sticky mass when toasted. But the most enduring effect of their brief visit was the contact that was made with friends of the community – and the goal of forming the first local assembly was achieved some months later, at Ridván.
In the years after that our paths did not cross, but Rúhíyyih Khánum offered constant inspiration to the entire Bahá’í world community – in her many talks at various gatherings – full of enlightenment and encouragement; her Great African Safari and her Green Light Expedition, visiting native believers along the Amazon and its tributaries and in Bolivia at its source; her travels through India and many other countries; the books she authored, especially that immensely precious The Priceless Pearl in which she told us more about the beloved Guardian than had come from any other source. Through all these years her actions and words provided a real ‘fountain’ of understanding for the friends everywhere.
There was, however, some contact between us, as Hiroko met up with her in Japan at the end of 1978. Hiroko had gone there for travel teaching, at the request of the Universal House of Justice, and Rúhíyyih Khánum was at the same time visiting Japan. They met at a gathering in the Bahá’í centre in Tokyo and, learning that Hiroko was carrying our third child at the time – she herself had only just realized it – she insisted that one of the American pioneers who had been in Japan for many years, Barbara Sims, ‘take good care of her’ while they were travelling in the north island of Hokkaido. It was mid-winter and travelling conditions were arduous, and Hiroko thoroughly appreciated the extra care that Rúhíyyih Khánum’s words had ensured.
Our final personal contact came when I was able to make a three-day visit to the World Centre in 1996 and she, obviously keeping an eye on the names of pilgrims and other visitors, phoned a message inviting me to join her for afternoon tea. As mentioned previously, her other visitors that day included an Italian family, and she was joined as hostess by Violette Nakhjavání, her constant companion for so many of her extensive travels. Much of the conversation centred around stories that both she and Mrs Nakhjavání shared of their travels, and invariably when one was telling a story, the other would intervene with some small correction of time or place. It was just like an elderly couple, relating stories that were familiar to both and each wanting to join in with the telling. We were joined later in the afternoon by Alí Nakhjavání, which was an added bounty and pleasure for us, and at one point when one of them wished to correct the other’s story, they both turned to him for support. He raised both hands – as in silent protest – with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, and declined to get involved. It was dangerous ground for him – caught between the two women in his life.
My personal experience with Dr Giachery was brief only, and on two occasions. The first was during my journey to pilgrimage. Travel arrangements had been disturbed by the Israeli-Egyptian Six-Day war towards the end of 1956 – the Suez Canal had been bombed and was blocked; shipping had to go around South Africa to get to Europe (this was just on the change-over between sea and air travel; sea was still the most common way but air travel was becoming attractive, and so I had planned the journey half and half, going there by ship and returning by air). The steamer that I eventually took was Italian – the Lloyd-Triestino line – and the ship was headed for Naples; I had planned to go there, take the train to Rome and fly from there to Israel.
Once Collis Featherstone knew of my plans he insisted I call on Dr Giachery in Rome and provided me with his address. Unfortunately, by the time I reached there, the address was no longer current. I had caught a late-night train from Naples and had arrived in Rome – frozen (I was quite unaccustomed to European winters) and weary, and had booked into a nearby hotel. In the morning I set out to find Dr Giachery, and spent the next two hours struggle, language-wise, with the taxi driver, noticing famous landmarks of the city, fountains and stuff, but not having the time nor the inclination to stop off for a closer look. Arriving at the apartment block, which was actually just outside the circle of St Peter’s Square – strange idea of geometry, these Romans have – I located the address but soon learned in broken English that the ‘doctor’ no longer lived there. But the current tenants did know where he was and I was soon knocking on the right door, to be greeted by Dr Giachery himself.
He displayed the absolute epitome of hospitality and once he knew it was a Bahá’í from Australia he ushered me into their small sitting room and insisted I make myself comfortable. Greetings over – I conveyed to him and Mrs Giachery the love and wishes of Collis and Madge; they had met each other at the New Delhi Conference – the first thing he asked me was: “Where is your passport?”. A little surprised I told him it was in my suitcase at the hotel – I had kept the room as I was uncertain what the day held for me. He immediately – and in a tone of unquestioned authority – told me to go and fetch it, the suitcase and the passport. He said: “Never, never leave your passport anywhere, not even in the house of Dr Giachery.” He was concerned lest it be stolen, having much experience in travelling himself and that was apparently a likely outcome. So he sent me, with someone else who seemed to know his way about, and we retrieved the suitcase and passport from its place of insecurity, and were soon back at Dr Giachery’s apartment.
They were apparently in the process of moving into their new quarters and he was busy, but he took the time to ask about the Faith in Australia, the community, the progress with the Plan – especially in the Pacific goal areas. He seemed very familiar with the situation there and was just seeking an update. Although I knew he was a member of the International Bahá’í Council and a Hand of the Cause, in my immaturity I did not realize how intimately he was involved in the Ten Year Crusade and its achievement. I was, however, deeply impressed by his awareness of the current affairs of the Faith and by his unique personality. I knew from Collis that he was from aristocratic Sicilian background, and he looked very much the part; I understood that through his family connections he was actually a count – and would have been using the title if he were not a Bahá’í. But his manner and demeanour were totally unexpected; along with the regal bearing that was an essential part of him, he had an endearing simplicity of nature, a warmth that was almost tangible, and an affection, almost reverence, for his wife, Angeline – he seemed to ‘look up to her’ as a Bahá’í – that seemed unusual, especially considering his own station in the Faith. One could almost put it down to the fact that he was Italian, and that was an Italian thing, but it was not that at all. It was simply that he adored her; her obituary in The Bahá’í World (volume 18) is signed by “Her inconsolable Ugo”.
My total time with Dr Giachery was only a few hours. He placed me in the care of another believer who was catching the same flight to Tel Aviv that night, an overnight flight leaving at midnight – a Persian Bahá’í, Fereydoun Khazrai, who later pioneered to Romania and was named a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh – and I spent the rest of the evening with him.
One comment the Guardian made while I was on pilgrimage adds another facet to the person of Ugo Giachery. His previous residence where he had been living for some time was, as I mentioned, just outside the perimeter of St Peter’s square, in an apartment block that belonged to the Vatican. At that time Pope Pius IX [note - should be Pius XII. -ed], who had held that office for many years, was suffering from a prolonged attack of hiccups, a condition that was quite worrying to his medical people, and one of the pilgrims offered a jocular suggestion that it may have been Dr Giachery’s close proximity to where the Pope was living. The comment had been made in jest but the Guardian took it seriously and replied that this was quite possible, that perhaps with Dr Giachery living so close his prayers had had some effect on the Pope. His comment not only indicated an attitude to the Pope’s spiritual receptivity which gives us much food for thought, but spoke volumes for the spiritual effect of Dr Giachery’s own prayers. [Note: in Recollections of Pilgrimage, Washington explains "... I was also surprised at his comment on the Pope's spirituality; he viewed him as a person, quite apart from the office he held in the Catholic hierarchy. I was reminded of this by some comment – by Violette Nahkjavani, I think it was – that Rúhíyyih Khánum had never criticised or made any negative remarks about any of the missionaries they had met during their travels together, because they were all spiritual people, doing what they thought was best..." -ed.]
My next contact with Dr Giachery – again, very brief – was in Sydney when he was representing the Universal House of Justice at the Intercontinental Conference there in October 1968. Dr Giachery spoke several times during the conference; once to deliver the message from the House of Justice and later about the beloved Guardian in whose service he had devoted his life – his love for the Guardian was so tangible that all in that gathering were moved to tears. We have only to read his Shoghi Effendi: Recollections to appreciate the relationship between them: his absolute devotion to the Guardian and the unstinting service he rendered him as member-at-large of the International Council and his assistance with the construction of the Shrine of the Báb and the International Archives building on Mount Carmel.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had named five doors on the original tomb of the Báb in honour of outstanding believers of His time, who had rendered some service in connection with the building and the Guardian continued this practice, naming the doors on the extension to the building which he added not long after he assumed his stewardship in honour of three believers who had assisted him in the work. The door on the western side of this extension was named for Ugo Giachery, for his unforgettable services in directing the acquisition of the marble stone in Italy for the Shrine of the Báb and the International Archives. His obituary (The Bahá’í World, volume 20) records that the Guardian told Angeline, when they were on pilgrimage in December 1954, that he “would very much like to keep you and Ugo here indefinitely, but Ugo must return to Italy and start immediately to work on the International Archives”.
During one of his talks at the Sydney conference he was interrupted by a small child who had escaped from parental care and had wandered down the aisle towards the speaker. When she reached the stage, she looked up at him pensively, clutching her security towel and sucking the thumb. He broke off his discourse, smiled at her and said: “Hullo, little girl” – and then went on with his talk. He was completely unfazed and had the kindness to recognise the child and include her. She turned and toddled back to her embarrassed parents. The incident was another revelation of the humanity and love-for-all aspect of his character, and I remember it clearly because it was our daughter.
The believers who were fortunate to attend that conference fondly recall his words of encouragement, simple words spoken with his inimitable and delightful Italian accent, and delivered with a refined and noble demeanour that revealed his aristocratic background. He was truly unique – as each of the Hands were unique in their own way.
My first contact with Hand of the Cause Leroy Ioas came when I was in New Caledonia in 1955, trying to gain entry to the goal area of Loyalty Islands, and had written to the Guardian requesting a postponement of pilgrimage – an action, which in retrospect could have been disastrous as nobody in those days ever anticipated a time when the Guardian would no longer be with us. The response to my request had come in a letter from Leroy Ioas who was then Secretary-General of the International Bahá’í Council, with the usual handwritten postscript from the Guardian, confirming that the goal was of greater importance and pilgrimage could be postponed.
My first meeting with him was when I eventually arrived in Haifa on pilgrimage in January 1957, on the first evening at the dinner table – where, understandably, seeing another new face amongst others could not compete with the experience of meeting the beloved Guardian. But during those days of pilgrimage I was to see Mr Ioas frequently and was able to gain an impression of a person of great spiritual stature whom I would never forget. I knew at that time some little of his background, his long service to the Cause both in the United States and in the Holy Land. His reputation as an unparalleled administrator of the Faith was legend; his reputation as a teacher of the Faith was equally unique. I was yet to learn of the tremendous humanity and personal characteristics that made him so special.
I knew that it was Leroy Ioas who, as chair of the National Teaching Committee in the United States, had driven the teaching work of the first and second Seven Year Plans; that his membership on that committee went back to 1929 and he was chairman and its driving force for most of his service in that field; that he had been invited by the beloved Guardian to move to Haifa to assist him in his all-important work at the World Centre; and that he had been a senior executive for some major railway in America. But meeting him in person put all of that into perspective – or rather, into the background. His most important service to the Cause and the prime characteristic of his person was his absolute devotion to the beloved Guardian and the example that this offered to us all.
During the nine days of pilgrimage I was to see so many examples of that devotion and sheer humility before the Guardian. One such moment came during dinner one evening. In those days pilgrims came and went as individuals, staying their nine days as guests of the Guardian, and the Western pilgrims met with the Guardian over the evening dinner table. But that was also the time when the Guardian would consult with members of the International Bahá’í Council, and much of this consultation was with Mr Ioas, as its secretary-general. The Guardian would raise issues, consult with the members of the Council and issue instructions for what needed to be done each day. It was as if the pilgrims were invited to ‘sit in’ on a meeting of the Council – and it was all done so openly.
The construction of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in Germany was one current project and rather complex negotiations relating to the acquisition of the land for that building were proceeding, and on one occasion Mr Ioas was explaining to the Guardian the difficulties that were being experienced in securing the land. As he was speaking the beloved Guardian raised one hand, interrupting Mr Ioas’s explanation, and placed it palm down on the table. “We must have that land, Leroy”. The words were spoken quietly but very firmly; the action was slow and moderate but the impact was staggering. It seemed to me like a clap of thunder – there was such a power in his movement and voice; it was a tone of voice that one did not question. All were quiet and Mr Ioas meekly said: “Yes, beloved Guardian.” That was it – no further discussion. Mr Ioas was a large man, with a powerful aura that commanded respect. But in his personal relationship with the Guardian, he was all meekness and absolute obedience
It seemed to me that, while on pilgrimage, one could see in Shoghi Effendi two separate and distinct entities: there was the warm and loving host, like one’s favourite uncle, who ensured that the visiting pilgrim was comfortable and gaining the most possible from pilgrimage; then there was the Guardian in the station that was conferred upon him by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – the Head of the Faith, the “Sign of God”, the “One to Whom all must turn”. I saw this second entity only a few times during the pilgrimage, and this was one of those occasions. It was the Guardian speaking, not Shoghi Effendi. And Mr Ioas bowed his head and submitted: “Yes, beloved Guardian.” This was a man who had managed corporate affairs for the Southern Pacific railroad, who in his working life had been accustomed to giving the orders, and now he had placed himself totally subservient to the wishes and needs of his Guardian.
This same relationship is evident in many of the stories we have about Leroy Ioas, in the stories he told of his own experience with the Guardian. His whole life was committed and devoted to the service of the Guardian and the Faith – totally committed. And he himself was as nothing.
One such story Leroy Ioas told the friends gathered at the Intercontinental Conference in Djakarta, Indonesia, in September 1958 – one of the series of conferences called to mark the midway point of the Ten Year Crusade, and which actually become a ‘memorial’ to the Guardian himself. Mr Ioas had been appointed by the Guardian to represent him at that conference which, for political reasons, had to be held in two cities: Djakarta and Singapore – Mr Ioas had attended the one held in Djakarta and many friends from the region were there. He related there a story which had a personal ring to it, as I had also been on pilgrimage at the time. He spoke of answering the doorbell of the Western Pilgrim House and finding an elderly, shabbily-dressed gentleman there, and was about to send him around to the kitchen door where the household often provided some relief to the poor, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did during His days, when he introduced himself as a pilgrim.
Somewhat troubled – as Leroy Ioas himself told the story – he let him in and took him to the room where he was to sleep for the period of pilgrimage. On the way, to express his feelings of concern, he said to the visitor that he would be meeting that evening with Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Faith, and he hoped the visitor had brought clothing suitable for the occasion. The old gentleman grinned and said, “Yes, I have my best suit,” indicating the clothes he was wearing. Still troubled, Mr Ioas said nothing further but took him to the room and told him he would be called shortly for dinner.
As was the custom in those days, the arriving pilgrim was ushered into the dining room first, to be greeted by the Guardian alone and seated by him, then the other pilgrims and member of the household would file in and take their seats. On this evening, as Leroy Ioas went into the dining-room, he said the Guardian looked directly at him and said: “This man is a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh; he will sit on my right hand.” Mr Ioas said he felt so small, like a 5-cent piece – the comment had been directed at him and he well knew that the Guardian knew what he thought and how he felt. But, he said, the Guardian judged people quite differently from the way we judge: this man was one of the heroes of the Ten Year Crusade and Shoghi Effendi judged him totally by what he had done, not by his outer appearance or how he was dressed but simply by his service to the Cause. He said that had been a great lesson to him.
This incident occurred while I was on pilgrimage but not in Haifa that evening – the pilgrims used to spend two nights in the Mansion at Bahji, and so I was away, but for the next two evenings I watch in amazement while Charles Dunning, pioneer to Shetland Islands, told the Guardian what he should do and how he should run the Faith – and the Guardian loved it, and him.
On another occasion I was photographing around the Archives building, which was then nearing completion – they were placing the green tiles on its roof – and Mr Ioas was there, personally directing the work, as he often did. I wanted to take his photo with the building in the background but he firmly declined; he was wearing overalls and workman’s boots, quite suitable for the situation he was in, but he said it would be quite inappropriate for him, as a Hand of the Cause and member of the International Bahá’í Council, to be photographed in that attire. He had that sense of propriety, which I respected, and felt it would not be ‘proper’ for such a photograph to be taken and passed on for posterity. And I knew he was not in any way thinking of his own personal dignity, but the dignity of the Faith that he would be seen as representing.
That he had learned from the Guardian; he told us that he was once making arrangements for the Guardian to attend a gathering of dignitaries in Jerusalem, and the Guardian had asked him to inquire where he would be sitting. His inquiries revealed that Shoghi Effendi would be sitting with other heads of religious factions, one of many sects that are part of the Israeli community, but not with the principal religious leaders such as the Mufti of Jerusalem or the Patriarch of the Christian church. Shoghi Effendi declined to attend; he said that it was inappropriate for the Guardian of the Faith to be there unless he were granted the dignity that his position called for. And it was the Guardian, as an institution, not as a person, that he had in mind.
On another day I was invited to attend the funeral of an early believer in 'Akká, and Mr Ioas drove another pilgrim and I to 'Akká in the large black American motorcar that he had had shipped to Israel so that his Guardian would have transport worthy of his station. We had joined the family members and other mourners at some point in 'Akká and then followed the funeral cortege through the alleyways of old 'Akká. I remember thinking that these were possibly the same stones that Bahá’u’lláh and the members of His family had walked on after their release from imprisonment. And just ahead of us was the large and imposing figure of Mr Ioas, walking slowly along. It seemed very appropriate in that situation for him to be towering head and shoulders above the rest, as that was a role he had played in the American community for so many years and later in the world community. His life of devotion to the Guardian was a visible example and guidance to us all.
I was also able to observe him at the Guardian’s dinner table where the business of the International Bahá’í Council was conducted. Many times the queries from the Guardian related to things that had needed to be done, to missions that he had entrusted to Mr Ioas. And generally his response was of missions accomplished, of tasks completed – he always seemed ready for the Guardian’s queries, anticipating what he was requesting, whatever he needed. His efficiency was obvious, his joy at being able to report on work done was evident. I doubt that any head of state ever had a more efficient right-hand man. And generally there was some sense of urgency, most of the tasks had to be carried out speedily.
On one evening when Mr Ioas had joined the pilgrims in the sitting area – usually Sylvia Ioas was there, but Mr Ioas only occasionally, as he used to walk the Guardian across Haparsim Street to his home after dinner, and generally went back to his office to carry out some urgent task – he told us that he had once been sent by the Guardian to Jerusalem to meet with a government official, something to do with land and, knowing the Guardian himself always acted immediately on whatever was on his mind, and greatly valued the same proficiency in others, he had made an appointment the night he arrived and rose early to meet with the official so that he could send good news to the Guardian without delay. Hardly had he dressed when the phone in his room rang; it was the Guardian wondering what he had been able to achieve! Such was the urgency which drove the Guardian’s thinking and acting, and it was only someone with the vast organising ability that Leroy Ioas had who could serve successful as a ‘tool’ in the hand of the Guardian. And this was all that Mr Ioas ever sought to be – someone, something the Guardian could use to execute his plans. And whenever he spoke about things that had been accomplished, goals that had been achieved, it was always something his “beloved Guardian” had done, never his own doing. His part was only that of a servant.
My only personal memories of Enoch Olinga was a brief meeting in May 1958 when he passed through Australia on his way to New Zealand and Fiji – to meet with the people of the Pacific, both Bahá’ís and prominent people in the wider community. It was a visit of some importance for the future development of the Faith in the Pacific region.
It was my good fortune also to be in Sydney, briefly, at that time – I was in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and had come back to Sydney to arrange materials for the school that was being built in Port Vila, New Hebrides – a small school that the Guardian had proudly mentioned in his final Ridván message. I was staying with a Bahá’í family – Greta and Aubrey Lake – and as Greta had offered to take Enoch Olinga around Sydney to meet with some of the elderly friends who were unable to attend gatherings, it was my good fortune to be able to go along with them. At that time, Greta had been a solid Bahá’í for a number of years, member of many committees and, for a period, member of the National Spiritual Assembly. Aub had always been there, willing to help in any way possible, living the life of a Bahá’í but not having declared himself. He was a skilled cabinetmaker and had designed and built the double chairs that have been used in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár of the Antipodes in Sydney – two chairs built in one unit, so that they do not easily move about and make any disturbing noise.
As I recall on that day, Enoch Olinga and Aubrey sat together on the rear seat, and there was little space, as it was a rather small sedan. Between calls on the friends who were house-bound, as we drove around, Enoch and Aub talked together in the back and, glancing in the rear mirror a few times, I noticed they were sitting close together and holding hands, talking softly and giggling at each other. Whatever was actually said during that day remains undisclosed but I do know that Aub declared a few weeks later. Such was the inebriating effect of just being with Enoch Olinga. Ten years later Greta and Aub were able to pioneer to Western Samoa, where they served for five years.
Although my time with Enoch Olinga on that day and again several days later at the National headquarters in Paddington was short, I recall a characteristic that very strongly marked him: it was just impossible to pay him a compliment. Whenever one made any comment that was in any way complimentary, he seemed to have a genius for turning it around, passing it on to someone else or back to the speaker. It was as though, in his own mind, he just did not exist – such was his humility.
On that visit I had bought copies of God Passes By for three of the early believers in the New Hebrides and, to make the gift more special, had asked Mr Olinga to write some message in the books for them. He asked me whether they were declared Bahá’ís or not, and I had to tell him that two of them were but the third had not actually declared, although he was a Bahá’í in his life and association with the others. His father was, I understand, a pastor in the local church and David was concerned not to upset him, so he had not actually declared – and as time passed, he never did, although I regarded him as a believer. But it was important for Enoch Olinga, and I explained the situation for him.
Afterwards, when I read the inscriptions he had made in the books, I saw that two were the same – loving greetings from one of Bahá’u’lláh’s humble servants to another – but the third was a little more reserved; Enoch Olinga must have known and inscribed his greetings to meet the true needs of each one.
My first hearing about Dr Muhajir was from Collis Featherstone when he returned from the first Conclave of the Hands of the Cause in November 1958. Collis spoke of some of the Hands whom we both knew or I had met briefly, and then said there was a young Persian there, a pioneer to Mentawai Islands: he was a ‘real dynamo’, enthused and fully ‘charged’ with teaching the Faith. Mr Featherstone was deeply impressed with this fellow Hand of the Cause whom he had met for the first time, and his impression and how he described him left an indelible mark on my memory. At that time he was just another name on the list of Knights of Bahá’u’lláh who had gone out to conquer the world in 1953 but, catching something of Collis’s enthusiasm, his name remained as someone really special.
My next recollection of Dr Muhajir was through a transcript of a talk he had given at the Indian summer school and teaching conference in Deolali, India, in October 1958. The transcript had been sent to Shapoor Soheili, with whom I had shared my first pioneering experience in New Caledonia – we were both there in 1956, trying to open the virgin goal of Loyalty Islands – and I had kept in close touch with him when I later spent time in the New Hebrides.
In his talk to the friends gathered at that Indian summer school, Dr Muhajir had stressed that teaching the Faith was now so easy. He said: “Teaching of the Faith means to give the life to the people … the fruit within us should be conveyed by our own spirit … It is very easy … It should be conveyed from our hearts and it will be easy for us to teach … we have this light of guidance within us and, since we are Bahá’ís, we can give it to others.”
He mentioned two things that we must avoid: pride and timidity or lack of courage. He said: “We should never think that we are the ones who teach. … it is Bahá’u’lláh Who teaches the Cause.” He quoted the Guardian: “If the greatest teacher thinks for a moment in the heart of his heart that he is changing the hearts of the people, his downfall will begin from that very same moment.” He said that this was the “reason why sometimes the great and revered teachers cannot do anything but a simple man, without having any knowledge and prominence in any respect, teaches the Faith very much because of his humility, and Bahá’u’lláh works through him”.
Indicating that the second thing to be avoided “can be found in all of us – that is, being afraid to give the Message of God”, he said that “a pure heart is required. Good intention is also required to teach the Cause … we are asked to rise and forget ourselves and only be mindful of Bahá’u’lláh. It means forget yourselves and have no pride, except devotion and the intention to serve Bahá’u’lláh and also make your heart to reflect the light of Bahá’u’lláh …”
He stressed very much this issue of “intention” – he said: “if you want to go out for teaching, your intention must be teaching alone. Do not think you can teach and do shopping also. When you go for teaching, you must go for teaching alone and nothing else … when you pack your clothes, your intention should be teaching only. Even, Bahá’u’lláh says, that when in the same city, if you go from one house to another for teaching, on the way you should think of teaching.”
He then related a story that came from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, saying that we must remember it always, as “it will lead you to the way of teaching”.
“Nabílzádeh, one of the teachers who had also come to India, once was in the presence of the beloved Master. The Master told him to go to India and Persia to teach the Faith. Then he started crying bitterly and said: ‘How could I be worthy to teach?’ The master embraced him and said: ‘I will give you the key of teaching. When you intend teaching somebody, you must love him first and, when you love him, he would also love you. When he loves you, then your words will influence him. This is the key to teaching that I am giving you’.”
My first personal contact with Dr Muhajir came in the early 1970s, while we were living in Melbourne and the community there was actively engaged in teaching. A number of Hands of the Cause came through Melbourne in those days, each adding his own brand of spiritual inspiration. On his first visit Dr Muhajir had encouraged the community to engage in what he termed ‘saturation teaching’ – the campaign was based around a gradual spread of the teaching work to nearby country towns along the three main roads leading out of Melbourne. First would come letterboxing of the whole town with teaching material and invitations to a public meeting the following weekend; then the public meeting, supported by ‘street teaching’ – actively inviting individuals to attend the meeting or accept some teaching material to start their enquiries. The activity was ‘time’ intensive but it worked to some degree; certainly it drew the community together in a common focus. And each time Dr Muhajir came through – as he did several times during that period – he would expect reports on what had been done (which was a stimulus to do as much as we possibly could). And each time he would have some new suggestion to vary the plan. It seemed to us that in his travels, he would pick up ideas of teaching activity that ‘worked’ and pass those ideas on to the friends in the next place he stopped – and his stops were very brief. Each time we would have a community gathering for him to address and I remember that his focus was always on’ teaching’. He was always very simply dressed: a well-worn navy blue suit, with red jumper, and he insisted on staying at some low-priced hotel that he had found on his first visit. He avoided staying with the friends, although many offered – I felt that gave him a certain freedom of action – and one visit I remember one of the Iranian friends invited him for dinner at her home, inviting a few of the friends and preparing a lavish meal (Persian food). He declined, politely but firmly, even though the lady was almost in tears, begging him to come, but he insisted on returning to his hotel, to eat whatever. Persian rice parties were not on his program; they were not ‘teaching’.
Later during the mid-70’s, while we were living in Japan, we also saw him a number of times – we used to joke that he always came to where the Faith was struggling most – and again his visits were brief; if there were teaching activities, he stayed a while and enthused the friends; if not, he moved on quickly.
At one national convention in Japan he came and encouraged the friends to travel teach to Korea, which at that time was struggling; but he insisted that the travel teaching be done in small groups, mixing Japanese, Persian and American – not groups of the one nationality or members of the same family. He used the example of a Japanese sweet made from rice, which was very sticky and called ‘dungo’ – if two lumps came together they were difficult to separate, and he referred to the Persian friends who were very active in the teaching work, as ‘dungo’ – they always stick together; he wanted to separate them to make more effective teaching teams.
Once travelling by train, while Hiroko was accompanying him as interpreter, he picked up a can of drink from the passing refreshment trolley that moved up and down the corridor. He opened it and took a sip, then asked one of the Japanese friends in the party, “What is this?” Glancing at the can and realizing with horror what it was, he said. “It’s beer – Japanese beer.” “Hmmm,” he said, “It’s nice” - and he put the can down beside the seat, undrunk.
Usually on these visits, I remember, he would stay with Ruhi Momtazi, a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in North-East Asia at that time, who had in his library bound volumes of photo-copied Tablets, which had been sent there for safe keeping by the Universal House of Justice. This was mid-1970’s, and the House of Justice had earlier arranged for Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, sent to many individuals in Iran, and held as family treasures, to be collected and copied into several sets – each set to be sent to a different location in the globe for safety. The originals of many of these were, of course, lost during the 1979 revolution but, through the unerring wisdom of the House of Justice, their contents were preserved. On occasions when Dr Muhajir stayed at the Montazi residence, Ruhi told us that he had great difficulty in getting Dr Muhajir to bed, to get the sleep he needed, as he would sit up all night pouring over these documents, many of which he may not have read before – such was his thirst to drink from the fountain of Revelation. And often in the morning he would mention to Ruhi some passage that had caught his attention. One such passage, I recall, was in a Tablet of Bahá’u’lláh where He said that if the Báb had not accepted to be the Manifestation of God, then Quddús was next in line – which indicates not only the extremely high station that Quddús held, but also that the Manifestation does have a choice in accepting His Mission. [Note: this is a personal recollection and interpretation of the author, which cannot be substantiated. -ed.]
On another of his visits to Japan, when he was scheduled to speak to a group of the friends in Kansai, we realized that he was not keen on having his talks recorded – in fact, he firmly declined. He said that what he had to say was valid only for that time, no need to record it for later on. The needs of the Faith would change and what he needed to say to the friends then would not be the same in times ahead. There was a certain degree of humility in it too; he felt that whatever he was saying was not really worthy of being recorded for posterity; it was just the needs of the hour that he was focused on. That is perhaps why we do not have a great deal of Dr Muhajir recorded on audio tape.
Another impression of Dr Muhajir came from Hand of the Cause Alí-Akbar Furútan who had been in the Philippines and was visiting Japan at the time – mid-1970s. He told us that while he was in Manilla he learned that Dr Muhajir was coming through for a brief visit – on his way to wherever – and he was really looking forward to seeing him and catching up on some family matters – Dr Muhajir was, of course, his son-in-law. He went out to the airport with a group of local Bahá’ís to pick up Dr Muhajir and sat with him in the car on the way back to the Bahá’í centre. He asked Dr Muhajir what his plans were for the day, and Dr Muhajir replied: “The Five Year Plan” (that was, the first Five Year Plan - 1974-79). Mr Furutan, thinking that he had not clearly understood the question, repeated, “Yes, Rahmat, but just for today, or tomorrow.” Dr Muhajir again replied: “The Five Year Plan” – he was singularly focused! Mr Furutan said that Dr Muhajir was so committed, that he could not take it; he packed and left for Japan the next day.
This was characteristic of Dr Muhajir: from day to day, he was totally focused on the teaching work. It was his life. Nothing else mattered; nothing else was of any value. His was a total commitment. His whole being was focussed on teaching the Faith – and of all those spiritual giants whose paths our lives cross at some time, I feel he most strongly epitomised the words of Bahá’u’lláh in the Gleanings:
“If they arise to teach My Cause, they must let the breath of Him Who is the Unconstrained stir them and must spread it abroad on the earth with high resolve, with minds that are wholly centred in Him, and with hearts that are completely detached from and independent of all things, and with souls that are sanctified from the world and its vanities.”
His mind was truly “wholly centred in Him” and his soul was certainly “sanctified from the world and its vanities.” Of all the Hands of the Cause whom I have had the immense bounty of meeting – with the exception of Mr Faizi who was someone really special – I think that Dr Muhajir had the greatest impact upon me, and on my life. I would have followed him anywhere; I think that if he had told me to jump in the fire, I would have quite cheerfully jumped. He was of such spiritual stature.
My first contact with Hand of the Cause William Sears was in January 1963 when he came to Australia in the closing months of the Ten Year Plan to assist the community there in achieving its goals. Many of the world communities at that time had either accomplished their goals or were well on their way to achieving them. Two national communities were lagging behind: Australia and Canada. Bill Sears had been sent by the Hands in the Holy Land to vitalise the Australian community, to ensure that all the goals were achieved before the end of the Plan. During his visit he travelled to and spoke at all the mainland capital cities. I was living in Darwin at the time but was visiting Melbourne, Victoria, when Bill Sears arrived there and had the great bounty of driving him around the city to attend gatherings of what was then a fairly small community and to visit some of the friends who were not able to attend the meetings.
The car I drove in those days was a Volkswagen ‘beetle’ and it seemed filled to capacity – to overload – by the immensity of his person, physically and spiritually. Such a space could not contain him, nor the exuberance of his voice. He seemed just too large for life, for reality. And, knowing him as a Hand of the Cause, caused me drive with unaccustomed care in that city traffic, dreading the thought that my carelessness could well lose us a person of such importance and value. It was a heavy responsibility.
Prior to that time the name of ‘Bill Sears’ conjured up memories of reading his books: God Loves Laughter and Thief in the Night, and meeting with him confirmed the impression that one receives of the author while reading his books. He had a great enthusiasm for life, a tremendous energy that left one happy but exhausted. I recall sitting with some of the friends at the airport, waiting for his departing flight, and he remembered he had not taken his pills that day – nor perhaps the day before; I do not know what they were for but he obviously needed some medication to keep him moving at the pace he did. We could see him mentally calculating how many he needed to take – perhaps to make up for ones forgotten – and he emptied half the bottle into his hand and gulped them down, saying: “That should be enough!”
Also on that occasion one of the friends had asked him for his signature as a memento; he acceded warmly to her request but when she drew out a prayer book from her handbag, he immediately declined, explaining that he always felt reluctant to sign a book of the Writings – his own books were, of course, different – as he felt it to be inappropriate. For all the fun he exuded from his very being, there were bounds where spiritual limits had to be recognised. On that day, his signature on a carefully folded paper napkin had to suffice; he did not like to disappoint any soul.
His visit to Australia at that time was like a whirlwind; it left us spinning – but it certainly did help the believers throughout Australia, and the goals were achieved. He really inspired the community to reach beyond its limit of capacity, reach out to attain goals never dreamt of. He addressed a very large – for those days – gathering in the Nurses Hall on St Kilda Road, Melbourne, and he rather shook up that staid audience with his stories and antics on the stage. His explanation of why he was then wearing broken spectacles – something about dancing at a Navajo Indian reserve – provided an entry into a talk about issues of great spiritual significance, while the audience were not sure whether this man was a comedian or a great religious leader. His approach was certainly different from that of any other visiting American evangelist they had heard – and this was around the time of the visit to Australia of Billy Graham and others of that ilk, who were drawing very large crowds.
His was the main address at that meeting, following a talk by Eric Bowes, who before becoming a Bahá’í had been a Unitarian minister and spoke in that manner, and it is interesting to observe audience reaction: some years later I met a believer who, as a young man, had joined the Faith immediately after attending that meeting, and I said that Mr Sears certainly exercised an attraction on his audience. He replied that it was not Mr Sears’ talk that attracted him, but the talk of that other fellow whose name he could not recall. This brings to mind Violette Nakhjavani’s comment in her ‘Amatu’l-Bahá Visits India where Rúhíyyih Khánum tells her that in every audience there are people that one speaker can reach and others that cannot be reached, but another person can do so.
Mr Sears brought exciting news from many countries he had visited recently. Meeting with the friends, he said that “all over the world, communities are coming to life. In 1937 the Guardian prepared us for this by telling us not to attempt to deepen people in the Faith before enrolling them. The Faith will deepen them through contact with the spirit of the Cause. We must throw open wide the doors into the Faith, and let the communities grow through their trials in consolidation …”
Speaking about Africa, he said: “The secret of success there was basically in the concentration of effort rather that any increased receptivity of the people. Near Johannesburg, where my wife and I lived, people would come and stay several days at our farm. Every morning and afternoon we had … study classes. We would eat together and laugh together. The loving atmosphere there was most important. In a few days they learnt more than many of us learned in a much longer time. They were aflame with the Faith, and anxious to go out and teach.”
“To paraphrase the words of the Guardian, we must be as an acetylene torch burning away the flame of resistance through the power of love. When a person first hears of the Faith and is attracted to it, he is as if transported to another world … To such a person, thirsting for the Word of God, we must not say: ‘Come back in a fortnight for another fireside and hear some more.’ This person is athirst and yearning to be satisfied; leaving him waiting is to let the embers of love die down to ashes … we must fan the embers, so that the flame of the love of God burns bright. If we let the fire go out, through teaching delays, it is so much harder to start again. Find the receptive souls, and help them to attain the Kingdom. Offer the Faith humbly as one would offer a gift to a king.”
It was the sort of guidance the friends in Australia really needed and they responded to his call. With that vital encouragement from Mr Sears – encouragement that only a visiting Hand of the Cause, a person of his spiritual stature, could give – the goals of the Plan were achieved.
The next opportunity to meet with Mr Sears was in Japan during the mid-seventies. One of his visits was at Ridván and he was able to attend the national convention, his talks inspiring the friends as always. On that occasion, I remember, Hiroko was one of two translators assigned to convert Mr Sear’s address into Japanese – usually one instantaneous translator was sufficient but for Mr Sears two were needed because of the speed with which he spoke, due to the years he worked as a sports announcer on radio. Even then they were struggling to keep up and at one point, glancing in their direction, he broke off and said: “I will pray for you!” – and immediately went on, without any lessening in the speed of his talking.
Following that visit to Japan, he and Mrs Sears who was accompanying him went on to South Korea, and I had the bounty of being there for the period of his visit and the joy of listening to him again. On that occasion one very proficient translator was used, but not simultaneous as it was a more relaxed gathering in the Seoul Bahá’í centre. Mr Park had had long experience translating for Americans at the army base there and from the beginning of his talk the translation went very smoothly. But as it proceeded, the translation seemed to be taking much more time than the talk itself – until at one point it became obvious that Mr Park’s translation was going well beyond what was necessary. Mr Sears gently drew this to his attention, and his response was that the friends needed some background explanation – that was all. Mr Sears said no more, but the withering look that he gave Mr Park was quite enough; a simple and direct translation shortened the rest of the talk considerably.
On that occasion the friends, wanting to make Bill and Marguerite Sears feel comfortable and aware of the many years they had spent in Africa, planned a visit to the local zoo – feeling that meeting up with ‘old friends’ there, such as lions and elephants, would make them feel more at home. The visit went very well and they seemed to enjoy it thoroughly, and were touched by the thoughtfulness of the friends in making the arrangements. As we walked around the zoo – a small group of friends had accompanied them there – Mr Sears, wandering a little way off to make acquaintance with some animal, was accosted by a stranger seeking a little financial assistance; they were obviously America tourists with Mr Sears clad in a loudly-checked suit, and such visitors were easy prey for the local con-men. Mr Sear’s face lit up in surprise, as only his face can, and he responded to the request vocally in fluent French. The man, not understanding a word of it, shrugged his shoulders in disgust and walked away. Mr Sears came back to the group with a huge smile on his face; he had disarmed the situation with no really hurt feelings.
Here too Mr Sears vitalised the friends with his encouragement. Speaking in a similar vein, he told a group of youth that when someone shows an interest in the Faith, “Do not wait for the next fireside; act straight away, invite them to dinner, invite them to breakfast even – if it is early in the day – and fill their spiritual needs immediately. Do not wait.” He spoke with the same sense of urgency and excitement, and it was very infectious. His great love for the Faith and his eagerness to share with the believers some fragments of what the beloved Guardian had told him while on pilgrimage, was like some torch, some banner that he carried with him everywhere. That – and his inexhaustible enthusiasm – was what we remember so clearly.
Planning a trip to Japan in 1964 and knowing that Agnes Alexander was living in Kyoto, the city I would be visiting, I had secured from Collis Featherstone an address, which proved to be the address of another gentleman who knew where Mrs Alexander was living – residential addresses in Japan are very complicated and finding anyone is usually fairly difficult. But through this person I was able to meet up with Miss Alexander in the very small apartment where she had been living for some years.
Perhaps ‘tiny’ is a more appropriate description – her apartment was so small that more than two visitors created a ‘standing room only’ situation. Her living room was filled by several chairs and one small table, absolutely smothered in letters, cards and other correspondence through which she would shuffle when she needed to show a visitor some letter she had received, while other letters would inevitably drop to the floor. Beneath them all and occasionally visible was a small typewriter. Off this was a ‘kitchen’ – more like a walk-in pantry, in which one person only could sidle in but turn around only with great difficulty – where she would prepare her meals and refreshments for visitors. Somewhere adjoining was, I understand, an equally small bedroom. There was no washing facilities; she shared a Japanese-style bathroom with other tenants in the building.
I relate this in some detail because it speaks volumes for the person and the day-to-day sacrifice she had made in pioneering for so many years in Japan and Korea. Initially she had lived in Tokyo, probably in equally confined surroundings – she went to Japan in November 1914, on the suggestion of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with Whom she was corresponding, and she was there during the 1923 earthquake that devastated the city and returned there in 1950 after the war. In 1937 Agnes Alexander had made her pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the Guardian had advised her not to return to Japan; instead he directed her to visit the Bahá’ís in various countries in Europe and then the United States. At the end of her pilgrimage in 1937, the Guardian had “told her, ‘The immediate future in Japan is very dark. Japan is going to suffer. The time is not now for great headway. The Pacific will become a great storm center in the coming war, great suffering.’ … The Guardian’s words were soon to become truth” (Traces that Remain, by Barbara Sims) and, except for those war years, she had remained at her post. She was a true pioneer.
My visit to Japan at that time was to meet someone with whom I had been corresponding for some time; before the end of my visit we had married, and so Hiroko was also able to meet with Agnes Alexander, as we visited her several times during those weeks and she was one of the two Bahá’í witnesses for our wedding. We had a Shinto (Japanese) and a Bahá’í wedding in the same location and, as she had never had the chance to attend a traditional Japanese wedding in all those years, she was really looking forward to the experience. During the rather noisy parts of the Shinto ceremony, with much banging on drums and blowing on flutes, she was looking to and fro – I could see her out of the corner of my eye – taking in all the colourful proceedings. She had a natural curiosity for all things and was intrigued by the ceremony; for my part, it was an immense honour to have her there as part of my ‘family’.
During those weeks we called several times to see her and always it was a great learning experience. Often she would dig around on the table to find some letter she had received from a Bahá’í somewhere and share its message with us, almost as if we must know the people who had sent it. We heard news from other pioneers around eastern Asia whom I knew only by name, and you could see that each one of them was as her family; she lived their experiences with them and suffered their trials. And she would bustle about in her tiny ‘kitchen’ and serve refreshments as though we were honoured guests. Even in that there was a lesson for me: once she served us some jasmine tea – luke-warm with some ice in it – that she had received from one of the Bahá’ís in Hong Kong. It was obviously a special treat. It was not really to my taste – I’m not even fond of ordinary tea – but I gulped it down with apparent relish, so as to deal with it as quickly as possible. Noting my eagerness, she asked if I liked it and I replied that it was delicious. That was my error; she then served it each time we visited. It was a great lesson in the wisdom of always telling the truth, and I long remembered it.
Our brief meetings with Agnes Alexander were special, and remain clear in my thoughts after many years. Knowing something of her history of service to the Cause as a pioneer – first in Hawaii and later in Japan and Korea - and aware that she had been mentioned by name in the Master’s Tablets of the Divine Plan, I had expected to meet a rather imposing figure. But it was quite the opposite; she was to all appearances a simple old lady – she would have been 89 years old at that time – that one would be proud to have as one’s grandmother. Her kindness and consideration for others was obvious in her every word and action, her love for humanity in the wider sense also. And as she spoke you became more aware of her deep understanding of human nature and the things of this world, as well as the conditions of the next. But she remained a simple person, really down to earth in her awareness of the good and the foibles in people. She was also losing some of – not her memory which was sharp and vivid; you could feel that when she spoke of past times and people – but her ‘grip’ on every-day life. One of the friends there who was the other witness for our wedding, Odani-san, told us that sometimes she would be right on time for some appointment, but a week early or a week late. Those little details of life were slipping past her.
Each of the Hands of the Cause had some special ability, some special field of interest: Dr Muhajir’s had been teaching the Faith; Mr Faizi’s was child education – and John Robarts’ was ‘prayer’, especially the Long Obligatory Prayer.
Long before he visited Australia – and he made only one visit there – he was known for the reliance he placed on prayer and how he stressed its importance in any gathering with the friends. We were to learn at first hand how this came about and what had made this such an important facet of his Bahá’í life. We had transcripts of talks he had given and reference was made to it by others in books and so on.
His visit to Australia came in 1972 when he travelled to all the major cities and inspired the friends in achieving the goals of the Nine Year Plan that was then moving the world community towards mass teaching. We were living in Melbourne at the time of his visit and three gatherings had been planned for the fairly large and wide-spread community there. As it happened, the first meeting was well attended by those in the east of the city; the second gathering in a central area was even larger, as news of the thought-provoking and inspiring comments he had to share reached the friends; and the third gathering in the west was huge – for a home meeting – over eighty of the friends crammed into the living space that was available, which was crammed even in a fairly large home.
But the friends who met with him then and heard him speaking about the use of prayer and teaching were all greatly enthused and inspired by his visit. When he left Melbourne the airport departure lounge resembled a ‘national convention’ with so many of the friends gathered to bid him farewell. In his talks with the friends he stressed the importance of using the prayers of Bahá’u’lláh, particularly the Long Obligatory Prayer, and he set us on the course of using the Remover of Difficulties 500 times.
We learnt, too, where all this had come from. Mr Robarts told us that in the very early days of their pioneering in Africa, they had to seek medical treatment for some eye problems their young daughter, Nina, was experiencing. It was threatening her sight and the doctors gave them very little hope. But John and Audrey had more than ‘hope’; they had the Bahá’í prayers and the faith to use them. This was when they first learned to use the repetition of the Báb’s Remover of Difficulties. They found in God Passes By reference to this by the Guardian, where Bahá’u’lláh is reported – by Mírzá Áqá Ján – to have said: “Bid them recite: Is there any Remover of Difficulties save God … Tell them to repeat it five hundred times, nay, a thousand times …” They used the repetition of this for the healing of their little girl, and the doctors were amazed – they said it should not have happened but her condition improved and her sight was saved. This and many similar experiences had confirmed their faith in the use of prayer.
Later in 1990 I was able to visit John Robarts again, briefly, just one year before he left this earthly life, in Rawdon, Quebec, and also met their daughter, Nina Tinnion, now grown and still with good eye sight. We spoke of this incident so long ago in Africa, and Audrey confirmed the story we had heard about the use of the Remover of Difficulties and their lifelong reliance on prayer.
Mr Robarts – he insisted we all call him ‘John’ but I find it difficult, even after all these years – told us many stories about the use of prayer. One he related was of a visit he and another experienced Bahá’í of that time had made to a community that was experiencing difficulties of disharmony, and the teaching committee had sent them to consult with and help the friends to resolve their issues. After their initial meeting with the community, they had returned to their hotel room and his companion had said to him: “John, these friends are not using the Long Obligatory Prayer. That is their problem.” He said he was astounded. “How can you say such a thing? Prayer is so private; you cannot know.” His friend had then said: “Yes, I do know. Communities where the Long Obligatory Prayer is used just do not have these sorts of problems.”
He also spoke of the nourishing effect that prayer has on our souls – and he said that we can certainly survive on ‘astronauts’ food – concentrated and processed to the bare minimum of nourishment – but he said, “who would eat that when a delicious, cooked meal is offered us?” That was how he described the Long Obligatory Prayer that Bahá’u’lláh has provided us with – not only nourishing but delightful to the taste, and so refreshing. It was a very convincing argument.
John Robarts suffered most of his life from asthma and bronchitis, though he hid it well. At one of the community meetings in Melbourne he had noticed someone light up a cigarette, and had ceased talking, saying he just could not talk if someone in the room was smoking. The cigarette was quickly doused.
At the time of his visit Mr Robarts was not in good health; he had consulted a naturopath doctor in Adelaide and was on a strict vegetarian diet. The doctor was a Bahá’í who herself had been ill and this had led to a study and understanding of more natural healing practices. Gertie Schmelzle had treated Rúhíyyih Khánum and some members of the Universal House of Justice during a pilgrimage to the World Centre; and when she fell ill in Japan during a teaching tour in 1978, Rúhíyyih Khánum broke off the tour and came to Australia to seek further treatment from Mrs Schmelzle.
While John Robarts was meeting with the friends in Adelaide, where she lived, her husband Gerhardt had sidled up to him at a meeting and said that his wife may be able to help him; he had consulted her and this resulted in his being on a strict diet. Aware of this and knowing Mrs Schmelzle’s background – Hiroko was also receiving treatment from her – we arranged to take him for a vegetarian meal after one of his meetings. He was happy with this; he loved his steak but was permitted that only once a week, and was content to stick to vegetarian food for the remainder of the week. Ordering dinner at the small restaurant, he had said to Hiroko: “If you can eat it, then I can, so you order for me.”
After dinner he invited us to come back to his room at the hotel for a visit. We were a little reluctant because we had our two young children with us and felt it may be too much for him, but he insisted, saying that while travelling he was missing his own young grandchildren. We realized during the evening that this was true; he was a ‘family’ person and missed having them around him. Little do we appreciate the sacrifice that souls such as John Robarts made in order to serve the needs of the Bahá’í community around the world. They, too, have their lives and their families, but they are prepared to surrender these for the good of the wider community. Later in 1985, while at the U.K. national headquarters in Rutland Gate, London, I watched a youth gathering planning a teaching trip to the northern islands – fairly tough territory – and was very impressed by one of the boys there. Later through enquiry I learned that he was a grandson of John and Audrey; I think it was a son of their youngest boy, Patrick, who had accompanied them to Basutoland – it was Bechuanaland in those days.1 I remembered that Mr Faizi had once said that the families of pioneers never really ‘suffer’ from the deprivations of pioneering.
As soon as we entered his room, he switched on a cassette player with the tape of some music which he said was his favourite – at that time. It was a well-known jazz and blues saxophone player of that decade; he said he often listened to it in the quiet evenings while travelling, as he found it very relaxing. We also enjoyed it.
The only other time I was able to see John Robarts was while visiting Canada in 1990; I had work- related responsibilities in Nova Scotia and British Colombia, and a short detour enabled me to visit Rawdon, a small town north of Montreal, where the Robarts had made their home after returning from Africa. John’s health had reached the point where he could no longer be cared for at home and Audrey had secured a room for him in a nursing home within walking distance of their home where she could visit him every day – Nina and her husband, Ken Tinnion, were also living there at the time, and I understand the families of his three sons often visited. So he had his family around him, as he would have wished.
His health had deteriorated considerably and when I went with Audrey to see him, I was not even sure that he knew I was a Bahá’í – certainly with all the friends he had met around the world, he could not be expected to remember faces. He was more concerned about whether Audrey could clip his finger nails that visit than realizing that he had a visitor. But when I went to leave, after staying only a short while, he rose up in his bed, raised one hand above his head in a brief salute and farewelled me with a glorious “Alláh’u’Abhá!” With a brilliant smile on his face – I think he realized I was a Bahá’í and nothing else counted - it was the same John Robarts I had remembered from long ago. The spirit was still there and very much alive.
John Robarts’ prime characteristic, as I remember – aside from his intense devotion to the Cause and his absolute reliance on prayer – was his wonderful sense of humour and his ability to use stories to highlight some point he wished to make. He had that ability to make the ‘players’ in his stories very real – you always knew people like that – and so the message he wished to convey was also very real, and you remembered the point he was making. And his kindness – I recall in a talk he gave at the London Congress in 1963, his speaking about a pioneering couple who, with the necessary passports and visas, had offered to pioneer to different goals, far apart. And he had hoped in his heart that this would not be needed, as he could not bear to see such a couple separated. He felt for people, and everyone was part of his much loved family.
I close this brief remembrance with words from the obituary that Nina prepared for The Bahá’í World, volume 20, because it expresses my memories of him far more eloquently than I can do:
“He continually invited, urged and guided the Bahá’ís to connect with that Source of all light that guided him, that he so clearly saw lovingly surrounding us all, ready to rush to our assistance if we would but take the first step … John seemed to walk the mystical path with practical feet and a penetrating eye. It was as though his vision extended beyond this material world and into the spiritual realm, enabling him to see straight to the heart of matters, to answer the unspoken question, to respond quickly and appropriately to the unuttered need.”
Just to round off the record, I met up with this ‘young boy’ some years later in Melbourne, Australia, at a Huqúqu’lláh conference. He was, at that time (October 2010) a Deputy Trustee of Huqúqu’lláh in China – Adam Robarts – and had come for the conference. He had completed his studies in architecture at Canterbury University, U.K. and, with his wife, Karyn, was running an interior decorating business in China, with offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. One could easily discern in him his grandfather’s spiritual qualities.
My personal contact with Hand of the Cause Jalal Khazeh was also brief – he travelled very little in the English-speaking communities, as that was not his principal language, but concentrated his travels mainly within Iran and in South America; he also visited Europe, North America and countries in eastern Asia several times. He represented the Guardian at the formation of the new National Spiritual Assembly for North-East Asia in 1957 and came through Japan again while we were living there in 1973. During that visit he spoke to the friends in the Kansai region in several gatherings.
He spoke a great deal about the experience of the Hands of the Cause immediately following the passing of the beloved Guardian, his stories echoing much of what Mr Featherstone had also told us but, coming from an Iranian background, his focus and view was somewhat different. For many of the friends there it was the first time they had heard about that important chapter of Bahá’í history and he had their full attention. He spoke with frankness and related the narrative in great detail.
He also spoke frankly of himself and told us of his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1952 and the effect on him of his meeting with Shoghi Effendi. Amongst other things he said that it had stripped him of any feelings of his own importance. He had had a career in the Iranian army, retiring as a Colonel, a title which people still used in addressing him; he had served on the National Assembly of Iran, for many years as its treasurer – he was considered one of the prominent believers in the community and carried himself with a certain degree of pride. Always at the steps of the National Hazíratu’l-Quds in Tehran there were a couple of lowly servants whose main task was to keep the steps clean and clear of any debris blowing from the street – he always walked in without even noticing them, beyond a casual glance. They were not worthy of any greeting or attention from one of such importance.
When he returned from pilgrimage and his meeting with the Guardian, he said that his whole world had changed, completely turned around, and he was as ‘nothing’. Entering the national office on the day after his return, he warmly embraced each of the two servants at the entrance, picked them up off their feet in a huge bear-hug and showered them with loving greetings. They were, of course, astounded. But from that time onwards he really characterised his own name; Khazeh (Khádi) means “humble” in both Arabic and Persian.
He also asked the friends a question – one that many of us had never even thought about: “In the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, what is the difference between tablets and prayers?” He could see from the blank faces that this was an issue that had never been discussed, not even thought about. For us, His Words were all revelation – just ‘the Writings’. This was, of course, before the publication of the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas – that precious compilation from the Universal House of Justice in 1978. Receiving no response, he then explained that ‘tablets’ were the Word of God addressed to us, the reader, and ‘prayers’ were words which we could use to address God. I guess this has become much clearer with the gradual awareness and application of Bahá’u’lláh’s admonition to “Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide” and increased discussion on what Writings really were the “verses of God”, and there has since been other clarification but at that time it was something quite new for us.
How can I adequately write about Hand of the Cause H. Collis Featherstone. For me, he was a spiritual guide and mentor during my early years as a Bahá’í – almost a ‘second father’. Even before my formal declaration as a believer, Collis Featherstone had been praised as an outstanding Bahá’í, one who really ‘lived the life’. Preparing to attend that summer school at the end of 1953, I had been promised that I would meet Collis Featherstone – someone “really special in the Faith”.
That promise was truly fulfilled – though with Mr Faizi also attending that summer school, and over-shadowing everything else, I may not have fully recognised the special quality of the one who was truly the outstanding believer of the Australian community at that time. But as time passed it soon became quite clear that here was a special individual – one of those spiritual giants that have always appeared in the early stages of each dispensation.
Once my path was set in the direction of the Pacific islands, I came to know Collis much better – he and Madge were both members of the committee looking after the Pacific island pioneers: the Asian Teaching Committee – an Australian version of the U.S. Asian Teaching Committee that had spear-headed most of the pioneering activities in the first year of the Crusade. As I moved around in those early years, the Featherstone home became a ‘second home” for me and I often visited them. The pioneering efforts that Shapoor Soheili and I shared in New Caledonia during 1955-56 were all reported back to the committee, and encouragement and guidance came from them, or personally from Collis and Madge. That created a firm bond that grew with the years.
When the Asian Teaching Committee was first formed, with Collis as its secretary, he realized that not only were the pioneers the Pacific area isolated and lonely, each island being far from home and from each other, but they were seriously starved for news – news of developments in the Faith outside their reach and also news of what each was doing in their isolated islands, news of their successes and news of their trials and how they were overcome. So a regular newsletter in the form of the Koala News came into being and, with this, Collis spent many hours, often late into the night, sharing the news of all the pioneers with each other. For the pioneers it was a lifeline, connecting them with the outside world, and Collis spared nothing in energy and time to keep the pioneers informed. He also acquired a typewriter with very small print – postage, particularly air postage wherever that was available, was expensive and the weight of each letter important. Much more would fit on a page in smaller print, and he often sent out short compilations on various aspects of the teachings and charts clarifying some aspect of the world order. Those who were serving in the pioneering field at that time still have treasured copies of these compilations – a reminder of Collis’s sacrifice of time and constant effort.
The importance of sharing news – an awareness that was probably acquired during this period – remained with Collis through his life and wherever he visited the communities, he would enthusiastically share the news of the world community or of neighbouring communities where success was being experienced. He knew the beneficial effect it had on the friends, many of whom were experiencing disappointments in the teaching field or feelings of inadequacy due to the slow development of the Faith. And ‘enthusiastic’ is perhaps the word that best epitomised all that he did, and it was a contagious enthusiasm which lifted the friends and confirmed their devotion.
In early April 1954 the Guardian instructed the Hands of the Cause to appoint Auxiliary Boards to assist them in their work, and the Hand of the Cause in Australasia, Clara Dunn, had appointed two Auxiliary Board members, Collis and Thelma Perks. Their appointment was announced at the National Convention in 1954 when Collis was also chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly. Collis had always borne a special respect and admiration for Clara Dunn – ‘Mother’ Dunn to all the Australian community – and now working more closely together this bond had been strengthened. Thelma had also been supporting Mother Dunn for many years, both financially for her travels and work, and caring for her in many ways. They were obvious choices for this expansion of the Institution of the Hands at that time.
As I got to know Collis during this period, I could see that he alone, of all the Australian community, seemed to fully appreciate Mother Dunn’s station as a Hand of the Cause. One visit to their home, I remember, we were all going out to the airport to pick up Mother Dunn – she was then living with Eric and Marjorie Bowes in Adelaide and had been away on some trip. As Collis backed out of the driveway, he suddenly stopped and jumping out of the car, said he had forgotten the camera. Madge called to him, saying it was not necessary, they had many photos of Mother Dunn, and Collis’s response was that “she is a Hand of the Cause, and everything she does is important and must be recorded.” I could feel in that response his full appreciation of what it meant to be a Hand of the Cause, and have no doubt that that is why he also was called to that station.
Collis and Madge joined the Faith in December 1944, and their ‘genealogy’ as Bahá’ís was very close to the ‘source’. They learned of the Faith from Bertha Dobbins, who had heard of the Faith directly from Father Dunn in early 1929, and with her husband, Joe, was amongst the very early believers in Adelaide. Spending time with Bertha Dobbins in the New Hebrides in 1958, I heard directly from her the story of how Collis and Madge became Bahá’ís. Bertha and Katherine Harcus, another of the early believers in Adelaide, had been walking around the Port Adelaide area, searching for someone to teach and when they reached a rail-crossing at Albert Park, in the Woodville area, weariness caught up with them and they stopped. Leaning against a post at the rail crossing they called on the Greatest Name – a prayer much used in those early days – for a home to be opened up to the Faith. Little did they know that some three houses up that road was the home of Collis and Madge Featherstone.
A short time after that Madge was invited to the home of an acquaintance to meet a former teacher of that friend, who had an important message to share – the teacher was Bertha Dobbins. Madge attended several of these gatherings and shared what she was hearing with Collis. He expressed an interest on reading some of the pamphlets she brought home and asked for “a decent book”. He was given Nabil’s Dawnbreakers and started reading it that very night; when he reached page 92 and read the Báb’s address to the Letters of the Living, he realized that this was from God; he had found what he was looking for.
Collis and Madge attended the first Intercontinental Conference in New Delhi that launched the Ten Year Crusade and from there went on pilgrimage to the World Centre. While there, the Guardian spoke several times on the functions of the Hands of the Cause and how this institution would develop in the future, and with his deep love and regard for Mother Dunn, Collis listened intently to the vision the Guardian laid before them, little realizing how he himself would be personally involved in the near future.
The New Delhi conference was at that time a highlight in the lives of many Bahá’ís; it was the largest ever gathering and Collis had a photograph of those attending in the lounge room of his Adelaide home, along with an architect’s drawing of the Shrine of the Báb and the International Archives building, which were current goals for the World Centre. The conference photograph was in an elongated format, and he was tickled by the fact that the same person appeared on each end of the photo. It had been taken by a revolving camera – a new technology that fascinated him – which required the group to stand in an almost complete circle, where it was easy for an individual standing at one end to step across to the other end of the circle while the camera was swinging around. Collis was a keen and proficient photographer himself and left a huge collection of photographs of Bahá’í individuals and communities around the world – he even bought a half-frame 35 mm camera which took twice the number of photos on the one film, a great asset for travellers.
On many occasions in the future Collis would share with the friends his recollections of pilgrimage and their meeting with the beloved Guardian. The Guardian was the focus of his life – a common facet shared by all the Hands of the Cause – and he hung on each word Shoghi Effendi said or wrote. The issues that were clarified at the Guardian’s dinner table became the whole focus of his future life: the role of the Hands of the Cause and their future auxiliary institutions; the major Plan of God and the minor Divine Plan of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; the role and responsibility of the pioneers in executing this minor plan; the two magnetic poles of the Pacific region – Australia and Japan; and the need for the friends to abstain totally from politics and give complete obedience to the government of the day. These were all issues that he spoke about repeatedly in the years to come.
One incident of their pilgrimage that he shared with the friends on several occasions was when, on one evening, the Guardian sent a message that he would be late for the evening meal and the pilgrims and members of the household should go ahead without him. Shortly after they had started eating, Shoghi Effendi came in – his face more alight than usual and obviously excited. He sat down at the table and, before starting to eat, announced some plans that he intended to execute – these related to developments in the newly formed International Bahá’í Council, developments relating to the Hands of the Cause, who were to have their own auxiliary institutions, and other developments of the Faith at the World Centre.
Both those of the household, which of course included most members of the International Bahá’í Council, and the pilgrims sat agape with surprise; only Rúhíyyih Khánum spoke: “But, Shoghi Effendi, you didn’t say anything about this before.” He bowed his head and replied softly: “I did not know before tonight; I am under the guidance of Bahá’u’lláh.” This was the reason for his late-coming and the incident, which Collis freely shared with the friends, reveals much of the way the Guardianship operated. Whatever plans he made, whatever guidance he gave – all came not from him but from Bahá’u’lláh. This was the pattern of the infallible guidance with which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had invested him.
During those early years I visited the Featherstones whenever I could and kept in touch with Collis through reports and letters while in New Caledonia; I also had the great bounty of visiting them on route for my own pilgrimage, which involved bus and train travel to Perth to catch a steamer, and theirs was the first Bahá’í home I entered on my return. My bed whenever I was there was in a small guest room off the back verandah and before retiring that night, Collis came out in his pyjamas and asked me if the Guardian had said anything and then told me not to speak about it back in Australia. I remembered the Guardian speaking about the building of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár for the Antipodes, soon to be constructed in Sydney, and also cautioning me not to speak of this, as the friends in Australia generally had not been told, so I said: “Yes, he did.” Collis immediately replied, with a smile: “Well, don’t tell me.” He, of course, knew all about it as the National Spiritual Assembly had been dealing with it for some time – but such was his obedience to the Guardian, that he would let me say no more – he was just checking.
The building of the House of Worship was formally announced in the Guardian’s Ridván Message for 1957 and when this was read at the national convention which established the separate National Spiritual Assembly for New Zealand – which we were all attending – I was able to see the look on Madge’s face as she looked sideways at Collis sitting beside her, and her eyes spoke much more than words: “You knew all about this and you didn’t tell me!” It was truly one of the Faith’s ‘best kept’ secrets.
Through Collis’s unfailing kindness and care, I found my life following pilgrimage unfolding without much effort from me. The following day, he called me to the phone, with: “Say ‘yes’, without asking.” The caller was one of the earliest of the Australian believers, Percy Almond – he and his wife, Maysie, were among the very first to declare in Adelaide – so I said ’yes’ as bidden, and found that I had accepted a paid-for air ticket to Auckland for New Zealand’s first national convention at Ridván 1957 – a brief trip which extended for more than six months, visiting communities in New Zealand. And during that day, with more than a little encouragement from Collis, I had committed to going to the New Hebrides the following summer so that the pioneer there, Bertha Dobbins, could take a break from the tropical weather and the strain of pioneering in that far-off island on her own. I knew that Collis and Madge, unable to pioneer themselves because of their young family, were fully financing Bertha in her pioneering venture and she had refused to leave the island for a break unless some other responsible pioneer were there, in case she was not able to return. This was planned for a couple of months during the following summer so that Bertha could attend the continental conference in Sydney in March – one of the series that marked the mid-way point of the Ten Year Crusade – so I was at a loose end till then and Collis’s quick intervention made it possible for me to spend much of that year in New Zealand. And while the commitment for New Hebrides was for a couple of months only, little did I know that plans for providing Bertha with a new school building that would evolve while she was in Australia would extend my stay in the New Hebrides for a whole year. As recorded before, Collis and Madge were the driving force behind the committee that planned the lives of the pioneers in the Pacific, and they planned my life very well indeed. In matters like this, I owe Collis more than I can ever fully appreciate.
I visited the family once more before going to New Zealand and on that occasion, I remember painting their bathroom. This also had its lesson because his daughter, Kaye, cautioned me that her father was very fussy that things were done properly and the painting of the bathroom had to be executed with the utmost care and precision. That was another facet of Collis’s character that I had not previously been acquainted with.
Attending the convention in Auckland was a story on its own – and some of that will be told in my recollections of Mother Dunn, because she was also involved. But it enabled me to observe Collis directing, from well back – behind the stage, so to speak – the birth and development of a new institution of the Faith. His guiding hand was evident, in a community that was still very new – though not young, because its birth actually preceded that of Australia. When Father and Mother Dunn held their first public meeting there, in Auckland, on their sea voyage to Australia, one of the audience spoke out and announced that she was a Bahá’í. That was Margaret Stevenson, the first Bahá’í in New Zealand, who had heard of the Faith first through The Christian Commonwealth, a copy of which had been sent from England by her sister, and later in 1912 through a friend of her sister who had heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speaking in London and had come to New Zealand for some theatrical performance; she stayed with Margaret’s family during her visit and what she conveyed of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s teachings enabled her to perceive its truth and accept the validity of Bahá’u’lláh’s message. But I digress – the community was fairly inexperienced and it was largely Collis’s quiet guidance that kept the process on course.
Later that year I was able to visit the family again before leaving for the New Hebrides – to garner encouragement and final instructions from Collis. This was October 1957 – and I remember the over-night bus to Adelaide stopping in the middle of those western plains known as the Mallee so that its passengers could all pile out, sleepily, to watch Sputnik 1 passing overhead. This was Russia’s and the world’s first venture into the realms of space, regarded as the marvel of the age, and it was launched, I think, on 4 October. Epoch making though it may have seemed, there were other things more important in the air – the letter from the Guardian appointing the final contingent of Hands of the Cause of God, preceded by a telephone call from Noel Walker, as secretary of the National Assembly, to Collis at work in his factory on 7 October, asking if he were ‘sitting down’ and then breaking the news that he had been appointed a Hand of the Cause. The cable that Noel read to him stated: “Announce your elevation rank Hand Cause. Confident new honour will enable you rise greater heights service beloved Faith. Shoghi”.
So the person that greeted me was a rather shattered Collis – in fact, the whole family were in trauma, dealing with this new situation. I feel the impact on Collis was even greater because he did understand all too well what it meant to be a Hand of the Cause, and how this was going to affect his life; he had studied all aspects of the institution and had listened attentively to the Guardian’s words. He needed time to assimilate what was happening, and that ‘time’ was just not available; there were things to be done. I remember thinking he looked like a person sleep-walking, or walking in a dream, as though life had suddenly become unreal.
The Port Adelaide community rallied and organised a gathering in the Featherstone’s home. Mother Dunn was in Adelaide at the time, so Eric and Marjorie Bowes brought her and the small community gathered for a first meeting with the ‘two’ Australian Hands of the Cause. I still have a photo of that gathering – an historic photograph.
Four weeks later an even great shock had to be sustained, and this was felt all around the Bahá’í world: the untimely – as we felt it was – passing of the beloved of all hearts, Shoghi Effendi. This immediately galvanized Collis into action: as one of the Hands of the Cause he not only needed to go to Haifa, to participate in the gathering that came to be known as the Conclave of the Hands, to determine what needs to the done now, but he also had to arrange for his fellow Hand, Clara Dunn, to make the same journey. She was 88 years old and frail; it was uncertain whether she could make the journey. She had attended the national convention in New Zealand earlier that year and had managed, but only just. She also needed her birth certificate to renew her passport, and while growing up in the United States, she was born in London, England – and Collis discovered that all records of her birth had been destroyed by wartime bombing. Through sheer perseverance – a quality much encouraged and admired by the Guardian – he was able to secure her passport just in time for the journey.
On his return to Australia he shared as much as he could with the Pacific pioneers of the events that had transpired: the interment of the Guardian in London, with all its sorrows and uncertainty for the future; the discovery that there was no ‘will’ and the only guidance the Hands had was the current Ten Year Crusade; their decision to fulfil the goals of the Crusade to ensure the election of the House of Justice, the only possible source of further guidance for the future; and their determination to vary ‘not one hair’s breadth’ from the plan the beloved Guardian had left us.
By this time I was in the New Hebrides, alone except for the handful of local believers who made up the community. It was a time of rapid maturity – for me, as well as for many Bahá’ís of that time. A letter had come from Collis, sent just prior to his departure and in it he wrote: “Now we will learn who the next Guardian will be.” That was fairly typical of the vision of most believers at that time: we were used to having the Guardian and we could not see life without him or some replacement. The fact that Collis had expressed this view demonstrated how most of the believers felt. It was a time of rapid maturity for all of us.
And it was a time when we learned to rely on the Hands for support and comfort – comfort from those whose hearts were truly broken. Bahá’ís in Australasia turned instinctively to Collis and he was there for us – all the way. He had the vision for the future and could convey it to us – even though those events had been even more traumatic for his own life. He was called upon to travel more frequently; he filled in for other Hands when they were ill and could not complete a mission – he was, after all, one of the younger members of the institution, some ten years older than Dr Muhajir and thirteen years older than Enoch Olinga who was the youngest. The record shows that from the first Conclave until the election of the House of Justice at Ridván 1963, Collis made 29 visits to 14 countries in Australasia and Asia; visited 9 countries in Europe and 5 in Central America and travelled 6 times to the Holy Land.
His travels to far-off countries alerted him to the fact that Australian news services – radio, as it then was – left a great deal to be desired, covering only or mainly British Commonwealth countries in its overseas news. He determined to fill this gap in his information supply – if you are planning to visit a country it’s useful to know whether there is a revolution or civil war going on – and he sought out and acquired short-wave radio equipment so as to be able to listen to overseas broadcasts. I recall him seeking advice from one of the friends pioneering in the Northern Territory – Bertha Dobbin’s son, Joe junior – who was knowledgeable in this technology, as to what sort of receiver he needed. And I recall Madge complaining that he used to sit up sometimes all night, to catch information on some broadcast that would be useful. He was very thorough in whatever he did.
Collis had a strong sense of the importance of proclamation activities and encouraged many communities to pursue these goals actively. He also had a natural and amazing ability to deal with those in government and was often sent on proclamation missions to meet with heads of state. On one occasion he was sent to Taiwan to patch up some damaged relationships. A travel teacher had quoted from the Guardian’s assessment of problems the world faced in “The chief idols in the desecrated temple of mankind … the triple gods of Nationalism, Racialism and Communism, at whose alters governments and peoples … are now worshipping” – and even offered to loan a government official the book, The Promised Day is Come. ‘Racialism’ and ‘communism’ were fine, in that situation, but to link those evils with ‘nationalism’ which was the founding principle of the state of Taiwan was more than a little upsetting for the official, and he took offence – a situation that could have endangered the whole Bahá’í community in Taiwan. Collis was sent to ‘soothe the troubled waters’ – and he did so, very effectively. Immediately after this incident, he visited Japan – that was during the mid-1970s – and related the story to the friends there.
Collis also had a keen sense of humour and fun, and liked to relax his listeners by telling stories and jokes. Once in a meeting in our home in Kyoto, Japan, he poked fun at the Australian accent. He had just been in Okinawa and had been referring in his talk to ‘race prejudice’ and how we must overcome this fault in our daily dealings with others. One of the friends listening, an American pioneer there for many years, told him afterwards that she kept hearing him referring to “rice prejudice” and wondered why this had to be eliminated, because she was quite fond of rice and had no prejudice against it. Collis laughed over this as he told the story, and said his Australian accent often led to misunderstandings.
A repeated exhortation to the friends wherever he went was to read the Writings daily and to delve deep into the holy words, constantly searching out their inner meanings, and also to be familiar with the writings of the Guardian and messages from the Universal House of Justice. This was something he himself practised; even travelling he always had books with him. I recall on one of his visits to Tasmania, when I was picking him up from his hotel, he had been reading the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh – which had recently been published, so it must have been around 1980 – and he had found a passage that interested him immensely and he needed to share it with someone. “And here’s another one – listen to this.” We were a little late for the meeting that evening. And he always had handy in his pocket a notebook with short quotations which he would use when addressing the friends. He knew the power of the Word, and could convey that appreciation to others.
Collis was passionately interested in the history of the Faith and the importance of keeping archives, and often spoke on this point in communities he was visiting. He himself collected a massive amount of archival materials: his collection of photographs, recording faces in remote communities that would have otherwise been lost from the record; the audio material he had amassed, mostly on reel-to-reel tapes which were later converted to digital format and sent to the archives department at the World Centre – three large boxes reduced to 27 DVDs of digital recording. These included interviews he had organised himself: Mother Dunn relating how she became a Bahá’í and her meeting with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; Effie Baker, the first woman to declare in Australia who worked with the Guardian at the World Centre for 12 years, from 1925 to 1937 and travelled through Iran in 1930 taking photos which were later used in the U.S. edition of The Dawnbreakers; Percy Almond relating how he joined the Faith in 1923 – he was amongst the first to declare in South Australia. We have Collis’s enthusiasm for archival material to thank for these precious records. He took colour slides of the World Centre on his pilgrimage, and made two 16 mm silent colour films which were both used extensively for teaching – this was, of course, all pre-television and their use had a significant impact. He also made a 16 mm colour film of the second Conclave of the Hands in 1958 at Bahji – 25 of the Hands were present, Corinne True and Clara Dunn being too frail to attend – and that is the sole record of this historic event. He also kept and bound Bahá’í magazines and newsletters of the period. As he often said to the friends wherever he was visiting: “You are making history now – record it.” He was very conscious of this, and his enthusiasm ensured that others in the community caught his message.
I recall one day in 1968 when Collis was visiting Darwin; he was on his way home from the World Centre where the Universal House of Justice had been consulting with the Hands of the Cause on the issue of extending their functions into the future – one of the goals of the Nine Year Plan. He had left the assembly’s post office box as a forwarding address up to a certain date, as he had planned to stop-over in Darwin, and we had just been to the post office to clear the mail. There was one letter him and he had been reading it on the way home. As we pulled into the driveway he started reading aloud to share its content with me. It was the letter of 8 June 1968, announcing the establishment and initial appointments of the Continental Boards of Counsellors – it was the decision on the issue they had been consulting on; Collis had been a party to that consultation but did not know what the House of Justice’s final decision would be. When he reached the point where the letter says that the Hands “will operate increasingly on an intercontinental level”, his voice choked and he stopped reading; then he whispered, “We belong to the world now”. He could see that in the coming years there would be much less time at home, less time for the family.
We have no idea, really, of what these great souls sacrificed of their own life and time. I remember reading an account of Hand of the Cause Tarázu’lláh Samandarí travelling through the United States in his later years, accompanied by his son, Dr Mehdí Samandarí, as translator. Someone had remarked to Dr Samandarí that it was a great sacrifice on his part, to spend his time travelling with his father, and his response was that he had seen so little of his father when he was growing up, that it was a great bounty for him to be with his father now on this trip.
Collis did indeed “operate increasingly on an intercontinental level”, although his one compensation was that Madge accompanied him whenever possible on his overseas trips. He still travelled within Australia visiting the communities – I remember his coming to Tasmania several times and sharing his experiences, particularly with the youth, but increasingly his work took him overseas, carrying out important missions for the Universal House of Justice. He represented the House of Justice at conventions for the formation of new National Spiritual Assemblies in the South West Pacific (Solomon Islands) in 1971 and the North West Pacific (Guam) in 1972, and also at international conferences in Anchorage, Alaska in July 1976 and in Dublin, Ireland in June 1982; with the diminishing numbers in the ranks of the Hands, he served as one of four Hands in the Holy Land, when needed, since May 1983; and attended the conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors with the International Teaching Centre in the Holy Land, in December 1986.
In the five years from 1963 to 1968 he had made a total of 66 visits to 42 countries; in later years – from 1968 to 1976 – he made 126 visits to 49 countries and attended three of the oceanic and continental conferences in 1971 – in Singapore; Suva, Fiji and Sapporo, Japan. With the number of Hands rapidly diminishing and the expressed desire of the House of Justice that he be completely free to travel, he sold up his engineering business in 1976 and during the last 14 years of his life he made 243 visits to 95 countries on all continents.
His untimely passing came in September 1990 when, while on a visit to several countries in Asia on his way to an International Youth Conference in Lahore, Pakistan, he suffered a heart attack in Kathmandu. There is a vast distance between the small country town in South Australia where Collis was born and Kathmandu, Nepal, where his remains are now interred. There is also a vast difference between the world he was born into in 1913 and the one he left – and in no small measure some of the credit for those vast changes belongs to him. As the obituary, prepared by his family, records: “he died ‘with his boots on’ doing what he loved best – serving the Cause”.